Whistleblowers are an integral part of consumer protection. They help keep our food supply safe.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) “estimates that each year roughly 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases.”[1]Salmonella, a bacteria that commonly causes foodborne illnesses, results in more hospitalizations and deaths than any other bacteria found in food and incurs $365 million in direct medical costs annually.”[2]

In 2011, Congress passed the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) for better consumer protection from foodborne illness and food contamination. As with other major regulatory reform legislation, FSMA includes a whistleblower protection provision that helps employees defend themselves when they make disclosures about potential violations of safety standards or refuse to participate in an activity that may be a violation of law.

The importance of the FSMA and whistleblower participation in its enforcement cannot be overstated. The task at hand is enormous. As the industry trade journal Food Safety News pointed out when the law was passed

The new law will give FDA expanded authority over approximately 80 percent of the food supply–not including USDA-regulated meat and poultry products–by giving the agency mandatory recall power and expanded access to food safety records.  FDA will be required to increase the frequency of food facility inspections (currently a facility might be inspected once a decade).  Growers and food manufacturers will also be required to implement food safety plans and foreign facilities importing food to the U.S. will have to meet the same standards.[3]

There is no doubt that whistleblowers will be needed if the FSMA is going to reach its potential.

Whistleblowers are also critical in the fight for safe consumer goods and healthcare reform

Two other major areas of regulatory reform that include whistleblowers are the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) (2008) and the Affordable Care Act (ACA) (2010). These laws set new standards for the safety of consumer products and the availability of health insurance, respectively.

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the CPSIA provided CPSC with significant new regulatory and enforcement tools as part of amending and enhancing several CPSC statutes, including the Consumer Product Safety Act. The CPSIA included provisions addressing, among other things, lead, phthalates, toy safety, durable infant or toddler products, third-party testing and certification, tracking labels, imports, ATVs, civil and criminal penalties and SaferProducts.gov, a publicly-searchable database of reports of harm.[4]

This law has improved the safety standards for thousands of products. However, without the support of knowledgeable employees, the law’s potential cannot be reached.

More significantly, the ACA has enabled millions of people to obtain meaningful health care coverage. Despite this achievement, the law has been strongly opposed by many politicians and businesses. Whistleblower protection was again deemed an important failsafe with respect to certain aspects of this law.

Read a legal overview on food, healthcare & consumer protections here.


Taking the Next Step

If you have been subjected to retaliation for disclosing or stating your intention to disclose information that you believe may reveal violations of any of the laws or regulations referenced above, contact us for a free assessment of your case.


[1] Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, Estimates of Foodborne Illness in the United States, available at: http://www.cdc.gov/foodborneburden/ (last viewed 9/25/2015).

[2] Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, CDC and Food Safety, available at: http://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/cdc-and-food-safety.html (last viewed 9/25/2015).

[3] Helena Bottemiller, Historic Food Safety Bill Signed into Law, Food Safety News, January 5, 2011, available at: http://bit.ly/1Fz3wZW (last viewed 9/25/2015).

[4] Consumer Product Safety Commission, The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), December 6, 2013, available at: http://1.usa.gov/10ZDyw5 (last viewed 9/25/2015).

[5] Source: OSHA Fact Sheet available at: https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3714.pdf (last viewed 9/25/2015).

[6] Source: OSHA Fact Sheet available at: https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA-factsheet-whistleblower-conprod-indtry-wrkrs.pdf (last viewed 9/25/2015).