Former U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner for Foods David Acheson has authored an article warning food company officials to prioritize food safety in light of the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ’s) increasing prosecutions against executives of food companies responsible for pathogen outbreaks. Acheson describes the Park Doctrine, which allows the government to seek misdemeanor convictions against company officials without requiring proof that the officials knew of or participated in the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act violations.

Further, after a misdemeanor conviction, subsequent violations are automatic felonies.

“It is for all these reasons that it is critical that everyone in a food facility understand and follow all food safety practices, and that executives stay tuned in to everything going on in their operations—as they are ultimately responsible for every act that takes place,” Acheson writes. “Additionally, while I caution against simply writing up a food safety plan in order to check off a [Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA)] box, having that written plan—and implementing it, not only puts you in compliance with the FSMA rule, it can help protect against criminal sanctions by showing that you were taking steps to prevent adulteration.”