by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Food-safety

Aug 26 2008

Canada has its own problems with food safety

The New York Times (August 23) reports a third death in Canada linked to cold cuts contaminated with Listeria, along with another 17 or more cases of illness. Nothing unusual here except for this statement: “The outbreak came as Canada’s Conservative government was considering a controversial plan to transfer all or some of the responsibility for food inspection to the food industry.” I hope they are kidding. Fox guarding chickens, anyone?

As of today, it’s 12 deaths and 26 confirmed cases with a bunch more under investigation.

Aug 13 2008

Whole Foods eats crow

Here’s a story for you. Whole Foods has just recalled ground beef contaminated with the toxic form of E. coli, 0157:H7. The company had had to go into full damage control. It needs to. The beef came from Coleman Natural, which used to take pride in the quality of its meat and its safety procedures. But Coleman was bought by Meyer Natural Angus last spring, and Meyer uses Nebraska Beef for processing. Nebraska Beef has a history of problems with E. coli 0157:H7. Whole Foods didn’t check. This is a fine mess, one that I attribute to the usual results of pressures on corporations to please their stockholders, never mind public health, but I am curious about one thing: What is Meyer Natural? Is it owned by another, larger company? If so, which?

Aug 1 2008

Salmonella saintpaul goes to Congress

So it wasn’t tomatoes; it was a jalapeno pepper (maybe). Congress wants to know what took the FDA so long and why the Florida tomato industry got creamed in the process. But every proverbial cloud has a silver lining: the food industry wants more regulation. It’s about time.  They finally figured out that a stronger FDA would be good for business. Look what it took to teach them this lesson!  Not a pretty sight.

Jul 21 2008

GAO looks at international food safety

The Government Accountability Office, long a proponent of overhauling the U.S. food safety system and putting it under the aegis of a single food safety agency, has produced more evidence for its view (I love this title): Food Safety: Selected Countries’ Systems Can Offer Insights into Ensuring Import Safety and Responding to Foodborne Illness. The countries they looked at have farm-to-table safety systems in place, place primary responsibility on food producers (what a concept!), deal with risk intelligently, and have mandatory recall authority. We could do this too, maybe?

Jul 4 2008

The Perishable Pundit takes me on

Yesterday, July 3, Jim Prevor, the Perishable Pundit, published a long series of posts (his ninth collection) on the tomato recalls.  One of the last in this bunch is in response to some comments I sent him.   We disagree about a number of points.  But if it were easy to achieve safe food, we’d have it by now.  I think it’s great that people like Jim are thinking seriously about these issues.  See what you think of this debate.

Jun 30 2008

The tomato (maybe?) saga continues

The epidemic of illness caused by the unusual saintpaul type of Salmonella has now affected more than 800 people, and federal agencies seem more than perplexed about its source. The FDA says tomatoes, and called for their removal from the market, an action with devastating consequences for the tomato industry. But cases are still turning up. Perhaps that is why the CDC thinks maybe something else might be the cause. Salsa? Guacamole? The produce industry is understandably interested and two websites are excellent sources of day-to-day information: the straight-news Packer, and the tell-it-like-it-is Perishable Pundit. Go to the FDA website for updates on the ongoing investigation and also provides lists of tomatoes safe to eat. Part of the difficulty in following this story is that two federal agencies are involved: the FDA and the CDC. The CDC has its own version of events (with useful maps of where the cases are in the U.S.). The USDA , which only deals with animal foods, doesn’t seem to be part of this one. It should be. The ultimate source of this outbreak has to be animal waste. This tomato (?) outbreak is precisely why we need a single food agency to oversee food safety. When, oh when?

Update, July 1: The Wall Street Journal reviews the outbreak and explains why the produce and restaurant industries are so angry.

Update, July 2: The Wall Street Journal quotes the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Mike Leavitt , saying that because multiple countries and multiple agencies are involved in the investigation, “it shows the need for better cooperation.” No. It shows the need for a single food agency!

Update, July 3: I’ve just discovered USA Today’s nifty time line of the tomato saga.

Jun 12 2008

Tomato misery

So the tomato saga continues, with the source of the Salmonella Saintpaul still not announced.  This means that you need to know which state a tomato comes from so you can avoid eating potentially tainted tomatoes from states that are still under suspicion. State-of-origin labeling, anyone? And you must take draconian measures to protect yourself from killer tomatoes: buy only the good ones (not plum, Roma, or round unless they are from OK states), wash and dry them carefully, and take your chances. Not sure what to do? Drop them in boiling water or cook them into tomato sauce. Isn’t this exciting? Not for anyone who cares about food safety or, alas, for tomato farmers likely to take the same kind of hit the spinach growers did. Check out what the Perishable Pundit has to say about all this. The Packer.com is another good place to follow this story from the industry’s perspective.

And I’ll say it again: it’s time to do something about our food safety system or the lack thereof. In the meantime, according to the New York Times, Congress again and again asked Commissioner von Eschenbach how much money the FDA needs to do the job right, but “again and again Dr. von Eschenbach refused to give an answer.” Of course he refused.  He has to.  He’s a political appointee.

Jun 8 2008

Nebraska Beef makes you sick? Blame church ladies!

Here’s a good one. The ever vigilant Andrew Martin, a business reporter for the New York Times, writes that a meat-packing company, Nebraska Beef, is suing the Salem Lutheran Church in Longville, Minnesota, because the church ladies didn’t cook its meat well enough. It’s their fault 17 people at a church social got sick and one died. Never mind that that the same toxic strain of E. coli that made people sick could be traced to the Nebraska Beef slaughterhouse. Moral: it’s your own stupid fault if you don’t cook tainted meat long enough to sterilize it. Silly me: why do I keep thinking that meat should be safe before it gets to you? Let’s hope the courts hold Nebraska Beef plenty accountable for this incident.