Contradictions, consequences and the human toll of food safety culture

Article

DOI: 10.1007/s10460-017-9772-1

Cite this article as:
Baur, P., Getz, C. & Sowerwine, J. Agric Hum Values (2017). doi:10.1007/s10460-017-9772-1

Abstract

In an intensifying climate of scrutiny over food safety, the food industry is turning to “food safety culture” as a one-size-fits-all solution to protect both consumers and companies. This strategy focuses on changing employee behavior from farm to fork to fit a universal model of bureaucratic control; the goal is system-wide cultural transformation in the name of combatting foodborne illness. Through grounded fieldwork centered on the case of a regional wholesale produce market in California, we examine the consequences of this bureaucratization of food safety power on the everyday routines and lived experiences of people working to grow, pack, and deliver fresh produce. We find that despite rhetoric promising a rational and universal answer to food safety, fear and frustration over pervasive uncertainty and legal threats can produce cynicism, distrust, and fragmentation among agrifood actors. Furthermore, under the cover of its public health mission to prevent foodborne illness, food safety culture exerts a new moral economy that sorts companies and employees into categories of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ according to an abstracted calculation of ‘riskiness’ along a scale from safe to dangerous. We raise the concern that ‘safety’ is usurping other deeply held values and excluding cultural forms and experiential knowledges associated with long-standing food-ways. The long-term danger, we conclude, is that this uniform and myopic response to real risks of foodborne illness will not lead to a holistically healthy or sustainable agrifood system, but rather perpetuate a spiraling cycle of crisis and reform that carries a very real human toll.

Keywords

Food safetyCaliforniaCultureMoral economyLabor

Abbreviations

CDC

US Centers for Disease Control

FDA

US Food and Drug Administration

FR

Federal Register

FSMA

Food Safety Modernization Act

GAPs

Good Agricultural Practices

GMPs

Good manufacturing practices

HACCP

Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points

HARPC

Hazard Analysis and Risk-based Preventive Controls

LGMA

The California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement

USDA

US Department of Agriculture

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Environmental Science, Policy and ManagementUniversity of California, BerkeleyBerkeleyUSA