Patterico's Pontifications

7/30/2008

Food Safety as “Outbreak Roulette”

Filed under: Politics — DRJ @ 8:06 pm



[Guest post by DRJ]

In Congressional subcommittee hearings today, Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-Calif) described America’s food safety system as “outbreak roulette”:

“One spin of the outbreak wheel, and your industry may be bankrupt, your loved ones sickened.”

He’s referring to the recent outbreak of salmonella from contaminated tomatoes/jalapenos that sickened 1,300 and left the tomato industry reeling.

The FDA’s Dr. Lonnie King, director of the center for foodborne illnesses at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told Cardoza’s subcommittee that “We have a smoking gun, it appears.” Federal officials advised the subcommittee that the same salmonella strain linked to the nationwide outbreak was “found in irrigation water and in a sample from a batch of serrano peppers” at a Mexican farm. It was also found at a second Mexican farm and a South Texas produce warehouse.

Food safety officials have not yet determined whether tomatoes can be ruled out but industry officials complained that they lost weeks of revenue totaling more than $300M while federal officials tracked down the wrong product.

— DRJ

18 Responses to “Food Safety as “Outbreak Roulette””

  1. Typical, cheap vapid prattling by a Democratic congressman about an issue that he’s completely ignorant upon.

    America’s food is actually cheaper, fresher, more varied and safer today than its ever been, but you would not know it from sensationalist news reporting and grandstanding twit Congressmen.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  2. Are these people implying that the Government of Mexico doesn’t have a first rate procedure to guarantee quality in its products? How can anyone in their right mind believe that Mexico could possibly have water treatment issues?

    How much cheaper are the peppers now, factoring in that $300M ‘surcharge’?

    Lawmakers are considering a range of reforms to prevent future outbreaks and speed their investigation. These include improving communication between investigators and the industry, imposing standards for good agricultural practices and improving traceability.

    Imposing standards? How, exactly, does one impose standards on another country, other than by choosing to avoid purchasing the goods?

    Apogee (366e8b)

  3. On a lighter note, during the outbreak when markets were recalling their tomatoes, the high end gourmet market in my town sought to reassure customers. Above the tomatoes, was posted an amusingly worded notice:

    “Our tomatoes are *not* involved in the recall.”

    (…because our tomatoes would never be involved in such tawdry behavior!)

    Dana (1cc5ab)

  4. Dana, a dishonest sign in fact since the FDA could not find the source of any contaminated tomatoes, none were really specifically “recalled”.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  5. SPQR, many markets in Southern California voluntarily recalled tomatoes, as did fast food joints and restaurants. Those that didn’t often posted where their tomatoes came from. I thought it amusing that this gourmet shop didn’t feel the need to post their origin but rather that their tomates were seemingly above such a thing.

    Dana (1cc5ab)

  6. Dana, yep, pretty amusing.

    Not least because there is reason to believe that “organic” produce have a higher rate of this kind of contamination.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  7. Not sure if you’re being sarcastic, but… don’t know if the uppity toms were organically grown but they sure weren’t’ contaminated.

    Dana (1cc5ab)

  8. SPQR is right that our food supply is safer than ever before. But it can be made even safer, with irradiation.

    Zap those veggies!

    Bradley J Fikes (0ea407)

  9. SPQR #4 – Good find, but my comment was more to the regulatory possibility of Mexican produce, and not to the absolute presence of contamination. A produce manufacturer in the US is punished severely by not only the market, but by restrictions in the form of fines and increased inspection routines that are under the control of our Government. The only possible remedy for a foreign grower is to restrict imports.

    However, the Mexican government is already protesting the investigation, rather than cleaning up their act. Because that would cost money.

    Our farmers and businesses are taking a financial hit because of contamination problems in Mexico.
    I’m waiting to see if our ‘protectors’ buckle to foreign influence, that’s all.

    Apogee (366e8b)

  10. Producer branding might help alleviate industry wide repercussions of tainted produce scares, both from a consumer confidence and transparent tracking by health officials standpoint. Such things as Grown in XYZ at ABC Farms will go along way toward people coming to trust certain sources and be not so trusting of others.

    In a sense it sucks to be an honest Mexican Farm getting tarred by some crappy run farm from there, but those kind of “injustices” foster trade associations which police themselves and protect the Mexico brand and it’s a heck of a lot better than “injustice” of it also affecting the same produce grown here, and, say, Guatemala, Canada and Chile.

    And that’s a word to the wise, too, to the tomato trade association here in the US. If your system of distribution can’t help track where your food is and be apparent from both the retailer and the consumer side of the supermarket transaction, you must expect every producer to be caught in the web of mistrust thrust upon the consuming public.

    I had no worry about munching on the tomatoes sold in the supermarket chain I frequent because it has locally grown produce from named farms. It was a nationwide salmonella outbreak, so it wasn’t being caused by the tomatoes I could buy.

    By the same token, they sometimes have hothouse tomatoes from Canada, which wouldn’t have scared me either. I can’t trust anyone else because I don’t see their brand enough.

    Dusty (dd1df5)

  11. Apogee, exactly. Both your posts.

    Vermont Neighbor (31ccb6)

  12. Here regulations could help the industry, specially regs to help track products. This way faults can be identified by source, rather than damning all producers.

    afall (e66d8d)

  13. ” Our farmers and businesses are taking a financial hit because of contamination problems in Mexico.
    I’m waiting to see if our ‘protectors’ buckle to foreign influence, that’s all. “…….How long will we have to wait for our growers to be compensated for loss of businees due to insufficient or non-existant Mexican oversight of fresh produce, and who knows what else. I’m guessing that it will occur just as soon as snow falls in the underworld.

    Edward Lunny (85f233)

  14. Another chimera being pursued by Congress.
    This has been going on, in my memory, since a similar fraudulent scare destroyed the Rhode Island cranberry growers back in the late-50’s.
    Let’s not forget the hit NW apple growers took on Alar.
    And, the list goes on….

    Another Drew (8018ee)

  15. SPQR is right that our food supply is safer than ever before. But it can be made even safer, with irradiation.

    Zap those veggies!

    I dunno Bradley… You think that’s a good idea?

    :)

    Scott Jacobs (fa5e57)

  16. …and not just veggies.
    How many people died from various bugs found in chicken and ground-meat vs how many in the same period have died from radiation poisoning?
    That the US does not utilize irradiation to preserve food (you can keep milk and butter un-refrigerated for VERY long periods) is a major scandal.
    Another example of the power of the Enviro-Wackoes!

    Another Drew (8018ee)

  17. Indeed, irradiation would be a huge boon to preserving a lot of foods, but opposition from the loonier side of the tracks has slowed down its adoption.

    SPQR (26be8b)


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