Rachel RespondsSeptember 22, 2018

Managing Food Safety Liability Risks.

Question:

What can I be doing now to protect myself if a foodbone illness is ever linked to my enterprise?

Answer:

First, get liability insurance specific to your farm enterprise. Insurance is an incredibly useful risk management tool because it guarantees a source of funds to pay on any resulting liability. A good liability insurance policy will also cover legal expenses whether you win or lose. Also, insurance agents often make inspections to verify that unreasonable risks don't exist on the property or with your operation. These inspections are a good opportunity to correct vulnerabilities. 

Second, develop a food safety plan. This includes identifying potential contaminants and how they could spread, and developing standard operating procedures to manage those risks. It also means writing those steps and procedures down, monitoring and recording your practices and the results, and performing corrective actions if necessary.

Third, prepare a recall system in case you need to recall products you've already sold. Recalls are often voluntary, but federal or state governments can require a recall. Even if a recall isn't required, voluntarily recalling product is a good way to limit a problem. A recall system will include a method to track the product. The tracking should be narrow enough to order as narrow a recall as necessary. For example, an apple grower's tracking system would generate a code for apples by location of harvest and date of harvest, and then stamp the code on the apple containers.

Insurance is sometimes available to protect against the expense of a recall, but it will most likely be available through a general commercial rather than a farm liability policy--and those policies are sometimes expensive.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Read pages 6-11 and 17-21 of Farm Commons' Farmers Guide to Reducing the Legal Risks of a Food Safety Incident. Listen to Farm Commons' podcast Let's have Lunch: Food Safety Issues to hear interviews with both attorneys and farmers on food safety issues. 

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