Protecting against liability has become a common precaution for companies who perennially face potential lawsuits in their everyday operations. This trend is illustrated by McDonald’s infamously being sued for serving hot coffee or a New York coffee shop getting sued for “damaging someone’s manhood,” after being sued for $1 million because a patron had his private parts pinched between the toilet bowl and seat.
In fear of class action lawsuits, some companies’ main concern has become covering themselves legally, often at the risk of creating panicked consumers. But have they thought about taking some proactive responsibility?
Consumers are facing risks. Food companies need to tighten up – it may be costly to enact more stringent contaminant screenings pre-production, but it could save their reputations and even human lives.
Anyone who has seen Fight Club should know something of the alleged corporate policy on recalls. To quote the film: “Should we initiate a recall? Take the number of vehicles in the field, A, multiply by the probable rate of failure, B, multiply by the average out-of-court settlement, C. A times B times C equals X. If X is less than the cost of a recall, we don’t do one.”
Recalls often happen too late to save anyone from ill effects, and are only good for companies to dodge the responsibility of endangering the lives of trusting consumers, or perhaps to save money. Such precautionary recalls can be especially unsettling if they pertain to something humans require every day: food.
Take a hypothetical and moderately healthy dish: tofu served with a side salad and a white chocolate cookie for dessert. Sounds like a decent meal. Although it probably tastes delicious, eating this food could be fatal to the consumer.
Vegetarians, beware. If this meal were consumed within the time of Quong Hop & Co.’s Sept. 19 recall of all deli-brand tofu, one could only hope that it wasn’t one of the bags that were “potentially contaminated with Listera monocytogenes,” as listed in the official Food and Drug Administration (FDA) statement. Listera monocytogenes can cause fever and diarrhea in the healthy individual, and can cause death in young children, the elderly or those with weak immune systems, according to the FDA Web site.
As for the salad, it poses similar health risks. On Sept. 17, Dole Fresh Vegetables, a division of the Dole Food Company, Inc., recalled all bagged salads with the “Dole Hearts Delight” label due to E. coli detection in a random product quality screening.
The ingredients used in my hypothetical cookie could also be toxic. Kraft Foods recalled Baker’s Premium White Chocolate Baking Squares because of Salmonella contamination, which can cause intestinal disease.
Even man’s best friend isn’t safe from corporations’ inability to manufacture products that won’t potentially induce death. This March, the FDA announced a mass recall of pet food made from vegetable proteins imported from China after learning that “some pet foods were sickening and killing cats and dogs,” according to the Web site.
Although companies should definitely practice better product quality screenings, many are being forced to conduct recalls to protect themselves from frivolous lawsuits.
Anheuser-Busch, for example, was sued by a man claiming emotional distress for having “no luck with the ladies” after drinking one of their products, according to the Asset Protection Corporation Web site.
To keep fatal foods off of America’s dinner plates, consumers and companies need to come to an understanding about copping out by using recalls: Companies will need to provide products that are guaranteed harmless, consumers will have to take their attorneys off speed dial and both sides must give their blood-thirsty greed a rest.
Jaclyn DeVore is a junior majoring in mass communictions.