How to Avoid Bogus Food Contamination Claims

By Johnson, Andrew | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, May 3, 2006 | Go to article overview
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How to Avoid Bogus Food Contamination Claims


Johnson, Andrew, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


H.J. Heinz Co. -- which started in 1869 in Sharpsburg -- originally became famous because consumers could see into its clear bottles, and know they weren't getting sawdust, said Deb Crosby, the company's chief quality officer.

Today, food safety and quality control is a tad more complicated.

It only grabs headlines when something goes terribly wrong -- like this week, when TGI Friday's apologized to the customer who found part of a human finger in his burger.

Contamination is a constant concern for food companies.

Crosby said Heinz takes food safety so seriously it uses independent audits with 77 pages and 500 questions at its factories. She said providing food safety for Heinz -- with products in more than 200 countries, using 2,000 vendors and with 26 U.S. factories - - is an awesome responsibility.

The food giant's Marshall testing facility houses 36 food safety employees and performs testing on the company's products and packaging. Some of the machinery looks as if it belongs at NASA. One tries to damage boxes of bottled ketchup by treating them like crash test dummies.

Secure packaging is important, because it prevents food tampering, Crosby said. It would take a "lug nut" to take off the cap of a common restaurant Heinz ketchup bottle, she said. The company worries about diners sticking butter knives down into communal bottles.

Food Products Association and Grocery Manufacturers Association, national industry trade groups, said it is unclear how many consumer complaints there are yearly about bad food. But there are numbers on how many people get sick.

Jerome A. Paulson, a professor at The George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services, said food- borne illnesses cause 325,000 hospitalizations a year, and 5,000 deaths nationally.

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