Food Industry Lawsuits and Convictions Emphasize Need for Food Safety Focus
While much of the world’s focus has been on COVID-19, with the food industry incorporating a range of worker protections, beneath this, momentum has built in the realm of food-related litigation. Not only were criminal convictions a focus of the USDA FSIS’s most recent quarterly enforcement report, but class-action lawsuits have continued to be of focus with Stericycle Expert Solutions anticipating lawsuits “to pass 2019’s total.”
Included in the FSIS convictions were guilty pleas entered by three food company executives: one executive was sentenced to three-year probation and an order to pay restitution of $33,053.86 to victims for two misdemeanors counts of sale of uninspected meat and misuse of an official device of uninspected meat and misuse of an official device; one executive is awaiting sentencing for a felony count of making and using a false document and aiding and abetting; and finally, the third executive has been sentenced to two years of probation and a fine of $15,000 for fabricating E. coli test results at his meat processing business.
At the same time, a second attempt is being made to prosecute former Blue Bell Creameries’ president, Paul Kruse. Initial charges were dismissed because they were brought by information, not by a Grand Jury indictment. While this second attempt may or may not pan out, as the five-year deadline for prosecution has expired, there is the question of if COVID-caused shuttering of trials should serve to extend that period.
If all this wasn’t enough, a class-action tracker lists 10 class-action lawsuits, filed in November 2020 alone, for misleading or false marketing/advertising.
What does all this mean to you? While many class-action lawsuits, including Kruse’s case, are still pending, the fact that they are even being filed should serve as a constant reminder to the food industry to keep a close eye on food production and supplier practices – particularly that of food safety – despite all the other pressures you are under. This is especially notable given the recent rise in FDA recalls, FDA’s new Outbreak Table providing earlier and more frequent public communication on outbreaks, and the expectation for increased lawsuits against food, beverage, and dietary supplement businesses.
Even with vaccines beginning to become available,COVID-19 cases are still high and expected to increase over the remaining holidays. There is little, if any, lessening pressures and challenges that the pandemic has exacted on the industry.
While TAG’s intention is not to use these newsletters as a marketing vehicle, we also don’t want to pose a challenge without providing solutions. As such, in addition to merely advising food companies to ensure their focus is on both worker and food safety, there are times that a business needs to reach out beyond its internal resources and ask for assistance. Don’t ever hesitate to do so when this is needed. And know that with TAG’s expertise in both food safety and public health, we can help you address and balance the needs of both challenges.
Give us a call.