A Startling Revelation

From a recent article on the Tomato/Salmonella outbreak from the UPI comes the following section. The emphasis is mine.

New York City health officials Wednesday said six more cases of salmonella poisoning caused by tainted tomatoes have been reported in the city.

They have been added to one previously reported case in New York, The New York Times said.

The new cases came as the head of U.S. food safety efforts said it’s possible the government will never track down the source of the outbreak. David Acheson, the Food and Drug Administration’s “food safety czar,” says that’s because fresh produce like tomatoes aren’t consistently labeled as to origin, and also because the outbreak, which sickened more than 277 people and hospitalized 43, is so widespread, the Chicago Tribune reported Wednesday.

So let’s see here – we have a nationwide outbreak of salmonella in our tomato supply, and the head of the FDA is saying that it’s likely that they they will never know it’s cause.

Two questions that I wish Mr. Acheson would answerimmediately pop into my mind:

  1. How is this acceptable?
  2. If it’s not acceptable, what plans are in the works to prevent it from happening again?

Of course most people who are even marginally familiar with the issues surrounding the ineffectiveness of the FDA have an answer – More effective oversight of America’s food producers and of food imports into the United States. But this requires both more money for the FDA and the political courage to embrace this very simple first step.

Let’s revisit food history over the past two years:

  • June 2008: A Nationwide Salmonella outbreak blamed on Tomatoes.
  • Feb 2008: 143,000,000 lbs of beef recalled due to poor lapses in inspections (to be fair, this is an issue for the USDA, but still reflects the state of our national food production)
  • September 2007: 21,700,000 lbs of beef are recalled due to E.Coli contamination
  • September 2007: Dole Fresh Vegetables recalls about 800 cases of salads shipped throughout the United States and Canada after Canadian government testing revealed contamination with a deadly strain of E. coli bacteria.
  • Auguest 2007 : Metz Fresh, a King City-based grower and shipper, recalled 8,000 cartons of fresh spinach after salmonella was found during a routine test of spinach.
  • June 2007: Tyson Fresh Meats Inc. recalled more than 40,000 pounds of ground beef shipped to Wal-Mart stores in 12 states after samples tested at a Sherman, Texas, plant showed signs of E. coli contamination.
  • February 2007: Carolina Culinary Food calls for a nationwide recall of Oscar Mayer ready-to-eat chicken breast strips with rib meat because they may be contaminated with listeria.
  • February 2007: Conagra has a nationwide recall of Peter Pan peanut butter that may contain salmonella.
  • September 2006: Nationwide recall of bagged spinach. Many store simply refuse to carry any Spinach due to inability of the FDA to say conclusively what brands are affected, and whether there’s a problem with non-bagged spinach or not.

It’s a simple question really, even if it may be rhetorical: How is this acceptable?


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