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The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has announced new food safety recommendations for managing the risk of arsenic in rice and efforts to reduce pathogens in meat and poultry products. Following a request to review issues related to arsenic in rice, GAO determined that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not updated its risk assessment of the human health effects in two years and was unable to provide a timeline for either an update or final draft guidance. GAO has recommended that FDA develop such timelines, work with other agencies to coordinate risk assessments and work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to develop methods to detect contaminants in food. GAO also reviewed USDA’s approach to reduction of pathogens in meat and poultry, finding the agency has failed to develop standards for some products—including turkey breasts and pork chops—and has not fully documented its process for deciding…

A federal court in New York has dismissed with prejudice a shareholder suit against Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc., finding the plaintiffs were unable to allege that the company made “demonstrably false” statements about foodborne illness outbreaks linked to its restaurants. Ong v. Chipotle Mexican Grill, No. 16-0141 (S.D.N.Y., entered March 22, 2018). The plaintiffs alleged that Chipotle and three of its executives misled shareholders and the public in 2015 and 2016 statements after outbreaks of norovirus, E. coli and Salmonella were linked to its restaurants. In addition to finding Chipotle’s annual reports contained sufficient disclosures about its processes, the court found that the plaintiffs failed to adequately allege that executives who knew about the outbreaks' connection to Chipotle sold more than $214 million in stock because the stock sales occurred months before the outbreaks were linked to the company.

Two consumers have filed a lawsuit alleging that they contracted Salmonella from deli chicken salad they purchased at Fareway Stores Inc. Porter v. Fareway Stores Inc., No. 18-0050 (S.D. Iowa, filed February 20, 2018). The plaintiffs, a married couple, allege that the contaminated chicken salad sent them to an emergency room—with the wife requiring further hospitalization—and that they both tested positive for Salmonella. The complaint also states that Fareway chicken salad has been linked to “at least 28 confirmed and 66 probable cases of Salmonella” in Iowa by the state’s Department of Health, with reports of possible related illnesses in Nebraska and Minnesota. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service issued a public health alert about the Iowa outbreak in February 2018. Alleging strict product liability, negligence and breach of warranty, the plaintiffs seek damages and attorney’s fees.

The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture has denied a petition from the National Chicken Council seeking to waive the line speed limit of 140 birds per minute in processing plants. FSIS told the council that processors of young chicken are permitted to run at higher speeds if they were one of 20 participants in a New Poultry Inspection System pilot study operating under a Salmonella Initiative Program (SIP) waiver. During the pilot program, participants demonstrated that they could maintain process control at line speeds up to 175 birds per minute and were capable of "consistently producing safe, wholesome and unadulterated product" and "meeting pathogen reduction and other performance standards.” The agency's letter indicated that it would consider granting additional SIP waivers but would not grant waivers that would allow processors to operate without maximum line speeds.

One day after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued draft guidance on proposals to expedite product warnings and recalls, FDA and other health officials testified before the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations about the results of an audit faulting the agency for the failure of the recall process to ensure food safety. Conducted by the Office of Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services, the audit identified a two-month average delay between when FDA notified companies of issues and when companies took action. During the hearing, Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) reportedly displayed a snack container he had brought to a 2009 hearing on a nationwide Salmonella outbreak traced to products manufactured by the Peanut Corp. of America (PCA). PCA executives are serving federal prison terms for their roles in the outbreak, and a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit…

Cookie Do Inc., which sells raw cookie dough desserts, allegedly caused consumers to feel gastrointestinal pain after they ate the products, which are advertised as “ready to eat,” with “NO chance of salmonella” and “NO chance of food-borne illness.” Canigiani v. Cookie Do, Inc., No. 17-7182 (S.D.N.Y., filed September 21, 2017). The complaint cites Yelp posts to argue that other consumers experienced similar symptoms and illnesses. Claiming violations of New York consumer-protection laws, fraudulent concealment, fraudulent inducement, negligent misrepresentation and unjust enrichment, the plaintiffs seek class certification, damages, injunctive relief and attorney’s fees.

A New Jersey man has filed a lawsuit against a produce supplier for its role in a Salmonella Kiambu outbreak in 12 states linked to Mexican papayas that has sickened 47 people and reportedly caused one death. Colon v. Grande Produce, No. 17-5458 (D.N.J., filed July 26, 2017). The plaintiff alleges that he fell ill in June 2017 after consuming a papaya imported by Grande Produce and was later diagnosed with Salmonella-induced illness. Claiming strict product liability, negligence and breach of warranties, the plaintiff seeks damages and attorney’s fees. On July 26, Grande Produce announced it had issued a limited recall of Caribeña Maradol papayas distributed between July 10- 19, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are warning consumers to avoid all Mexican Maradol papayas regardless of the source. An FDA recall notice stated, “The FDA notes that there are…

Food & Water Watch, a consumer advocacy group, has filed suit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food Safety and Inspection Service over the agencies’ denial of the group’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests asking for the names of companies that opted to participate in the New Poultry Inspection System (NPIS). Food & Water Watch, Inc. v. U.S. Dep’t of Agric., No. 17­-1133 (D.D.C., filed June 9, 2017). USDA implemented the optional NPIS in an effort to reduce rates of foodborne illness attributable to chicken and turkey contaminated with Salmonella and Campylobacter. Food & Water Watch requested the identities of the companies that chose to participate in NPIS, but their FOIA requests were denied on the grounds that “the responsive records consist solely of confidential future business plans.” Alleging violations of FOIA, the plaintiff is seeking an order for disclosure of the requested records and attorney’s…

A Colorado federal court has dismissed a shareholder derivative action against Chipotle alleging the company’s officers and directors of food­-safety oversight failed to take action to prevent outbreaks of foodborne illness. Gubricky v. Ells, No. 16­-2011 (D. Colo., order entered June 7, 2017). The plaintiff claimed the defendants had failed to implement and enforce effective food-safety procedures, monitor compliance with food-safety laws or commit necessary resources to store audits and risk assessment after a series of foodborne­ illness outbreaks. The complaint further alleged that the board failed to take action or offer sick employees paid leave until 2015, seven years after the outbreaks began. In a shareholder derivative suit, plaintiffs must plead “with particularity” why demanding the corporate board to take corrective action would be futile, the court said, but the plaintiff failed to plead facts specific to each director establishing a “substantial likelihood of personal liability.” The plaintiff must…

The U.S. Supreme Court has denied certiorari in a six-­state coalition's attempt to block enforcement of a California law requiring egg­-production facilities to provide hens enough space to extend their limbs and turn around. Missouri v. Becerra, No. 16­-1015 (U.S., denial of certiorari entered May 30, 2017). The rule affects private egg producers within each state, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit found that this interest did not convey standing upon the states. Additional details on the circuit court's decision appear in Issue 623 of this Update. The high court also denied certiorari to Austin "Jack" DeCoster and his son Peter, who sought to appeal the prison sentences they received for their roles in a 2010 Salmonella outbreak that sickened thousands across the United States. DeCoster v. United States, No. 16-­877 (U.S., denial of certiorari entered May 18, 2017). The men, former executives of Quality Egg…

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