So now we know (courtesy of the New York Times) why E. coli O157:H7 recalls are becoming more frequent: the meat industry isn’t following food safety rules. These rules were require meat and poultry producers to develop and monitor plans for producing safe food, and to test to make sure the plans are working. Two problems here: the companies aren’t bothering to follow the rules, and the onsite USDA inspectors aren’t bothering to enforce them. Standard food safety rules–HACCP and pathogen reduction–work really well, but only if designed, followed, and enforced to the letter and spirit. I keep asking: what will it take to get Congress to act on the food safety issue?
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I’ve just discovered Meat & Poultry, an excellent source of information about current recalls and other industry gossip. The site describes two new E. coli O157:H7 recalls, which now must be added to the “sudden spike” of 14 others this year. Are incidents and outbreaks increasing because the industry is getting sloppier, or is the surveillance system getting better? Whatever. If we had a farm-to-table food safety system, we might be able to answer this question and do something about it.
Yesterday’s USA Today carried an article on the latest word on food safety from the excellent Julie Schmit (who, along with Elizabeth Weise, deserves a Pulitzer for their outstanding reporting on the pet food recall and on food safety issues in general). Here we go again with outbreaks of the nasty E. coli 0157:H7 from meat produced by Topps, which had to recall nearly 22 million pounds of hamburger and promptly went out of business, and Cargill, among others. As I discussed at length in my book, Safe Food, we know perfectly well how to produce food free of harmful pathogens. If companies aren’t doing it, it’s out of ignorance, laziness, or greed. We do not have a farm-to-table food safety program in this country. We need one. How many more incidents of this type must we go through before Congress makes public health a priority? This is an issue for Congress. Start lobbying…
Today’s question: “Dr. Nestle, any suggests of a group fighting listeria/listeriosis to fund? Given your expert stature, you are my best source. ..My father was Dxd [diagnosed] with this around May 1 after being admitted to hospital apr 19 – But the suffering from it and cost of it – what if my mom hadn’t had a spare $100,000 – unbelievable. And I am sure insurance covered another million or so. In 5 mos.”
Here’s my thought: Listeria are among those newly emergent bacteria that arrived along with industrial food production. They are especially nasty because they grow happily at cold temperatures. I’m not aware of groups specifically devoted to fighting this one, but there are excellent groups working on food safety issues in general. One is STOP–Safe Tables Our Priority–created by mothers of children who died from the effects of eating hamburgers contaminated with E. coli 0157:H7. The food safety issues are the same. Both bacteria would be less of a problem if we had a better food safety system. But let’s ask: does anyone know of any groups working specifically on Listeria issues?
This time it’s E. coli in bagged salads from Dole. I recently visited the packing plant where the contaminated spinach originated a year ago and could not believe the state-of-the-art testing and holding prodedures that company put in place. Everybody needs to be doing this sort of thing. This is why federal regulations, imperfect as they are, so badly need to be instituted.