What if Nestle Had Told the FDA?
Nestle USA has gotten kudos all around for conducting its own inspections of Peanut Corporation of America factories and for opting not to use PCA's products when those inspections turned up all kinds of unsavory, unsanitary conditions. You can read the detailed reports on the Congressional Committee on Energy and Commerce Web site where they were posted in connection with last week's hearings about the PCA/salmonella scandal.
I agree that Nestle USA did a good job by not just relying on a third-party inspector. It's a shame that PCA didn't change its ways when Nestle told the company what it had found -- even when Nestle offered to help, as it did when it reported that PCA lacked a plan for monitoring pathogens (such as salmonella).
But a number of readers commenting on Washington Post's report about Nestle USA's inspections asked an intriguing question: What might have happened had Nestle taken its findings to the FDA right away? Could a great deal of suffering -- and nine deaths! -- have been averted had it been more widely known that PCA was potentially selling salmonella-tainted peanuts?
Edie Burge, a spokesperson for Nestle USA, tells me, "We did share our detailed audit results with PCA, which provided a comprehensive overview of the issues we uncovered during our audit. As you know, we are not required to inform the government about problems we find as a result of our internal audits of potential suppliers."
That's how the system works. And of course it's not Nestle USA's job to inspect factories on behalf of the American people. That's the FDA's job.
The Obama administration has pledged to revamp the FDA's operations to better equip the agency to handle the complex challenges of keeping America's food supply safe. Getting that right could mean we wouldn't have to worry about these things so much any more.
Complicating the story: Nestle USA issued a press release on January 28 that read in part "We are pleased to advise that no Nestle USA products have been affected or recalled as a result" of the PCA/salmonella issue. So what to make of a February 3 recall of Nestle HealthCare Nutrition's recall of its OPTIFAST Honey Nut 'n Oat Nutritional Bars "due to possible Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) Contamination and Potential Health Risk"?
Turns out, Nestle HealthCare Nutrition isn't the same as Nestle USA -- though, as Edie Burge explains, they both report to the same Nestle headquarters in Switzerland.
I don't know about you, but I'm inclined to withhold my kudos for now.
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