But the overhaul promised by FSMA, which was supposed to shift our system from reactive to preventive, has not happened. The four most critical regulations called for in the bill, which would mandate preventive safety practices for food manufacturers and produce growers in the US and abroad, have been languishing at the White House Office of Management and Budget for a year. OMB officials maintain that the rules are complex and that they are working diligently to finalize their review, but industry stakeholders, consumer groups, and public-health advocates say that election-year politics put the regulations on hold. With the election over, food-safety activists hope the administration will finally move ahead with these regulations.

Several editorial boards have urged the Obama administration to implement FSMA, but there has been limited news coverage of the delay, even as foodborne-illness outbreaks continue to grab headlines. Covering these policy-heavy stories can be challenging, in part because it’s difficult to translate them into something interesting for the average news consumer. “When journalists do actually write those stories, they are often too technical for the general public to follow, not because the writer has done a bad job, but because of the complexity of America’s food system and the byzantine rules that are meant to keep it safe,” says Jane Black, who used to cover food at The Washington Post, where she now writes a monthly column.

Four years after the PCA scandal, the Hurleys are experiencing déjà vu as the country deals with another Salmonella outbreak tied to peanut butter that has sickened 42 people in 20 states. More than half the victims are children under the age of 10, and more than 200 products have been recalled. The FDA has, once again, launched a searchable database for consumers.

Last October, the family received a postcard from Costco notifying them they had purchased organic peanut butter months ago that had been recalled. Peter had actually been following the latest outbreak, but didn’t know that peanut butter he had purchased was part of the recall. To their relief, they hadn’t eaten any of it.

 

Helena Bottemiller is the Washington, DC, correspondent for Food Safety News. Food Safety News is published by the law firm Marler Clark, which represents victims of food-borne illnesses but is operated separately and is editorially independent.