by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Food-safety

Oct 16 2007

Can the food industry police itself?

The Wall Street Journal, that increasingly surprising newspaper, wants to know whether whether food companies can be expected to police their own food safety procedures. Hardly, says the excellent writer of yesterday’s article, Jane Zhang. “…this system of ‘preventive controls’ has worked in the past only with adequate regulatory enforcement and industry support–neither of which is guaranteed.” She quotes Mike Taylor, a former official in FDA and USDA: “The reason you have regulation is some companies don’t have the market incentive to meet high food-quality standards…the public doesn’t trust a system that leaves it entirely to the industry.” Indeed. If the Wall Street Journal thinks we need better food safety regulation, maybe its time has come?

Oct 15 2007

Food safety yet again

In yesterday’s New York Times, Andrew Martin says he’s gotten used to the idea that hamburgers can make people sick but it never occurred to him to worry about frozen dinners. Until now. Customers who got sick from eating ConAgra pot pies contaminated with toxic Salmonella were told it was their own fault. They should have done a better job of following the directions for cooking the pies. Martin convincingly demonstrates the absurdity of that idea. If you want to eat frozen meals, he says, you had best zap them to pieces and use a thermometer. But why not argue that ConAgra should do a better job of making safe products in the first place? Hasn’t the company ever heard of HACCP? Why isn’t it following standard food safety procedures to keep harmful microbes out of food? If ever there was a situation ripe for a lawsuit, this one is it. I’m not the only one who thinks so, apparently. The lawyers are already on the case. It should be an easy win.

Sep 23 2007

Food safety advocacy

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?

Sep 21 2007

Today’s must read: the spinach recall, 1 year later!

USA Today’s star science reporters, Elizabeth Weise and Julie Schmit, have produced an extraordinary investigative report on last year’s spinach recall. They see improvements in America’s food safety system as a result, but question whether these are nearly enough. I think this is great reporting. Take a look!

Sep 18 2007

Uh oh. Another salad scare

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.

Jul 27 2007

Bored With Food Recalls? You Are Not Alone

On July 18 and again on July 21, the FDA announced a recall of canned chili and other foods, including pet foods, produced by Castleberry’s Food Company in Georgia because they made four people sick from botulism. Now the FDA and USDA have issued guidance to companies for proper handling of foods to prevent botulism, which can be fatal.

I don’t understand why people aren’t demonstrating in the streets for better oversight of food safety. Botulism used to be a big problem in low-acid canned foods until the FDA issued rules for dealing with them properly. If it’s still a problem, it’s either because companies are not following standard food safety procedures or because their systems failed and nobody noticed. We do not have a food safety system in this country that requires every food product made or imported into this country to be produced under standard food safety rules, monitored and enforced, from farm to table. I think we need them. Now. The endless “recalls” (in quotation marks because they are voluntary, unenforceable, and never able to get back more than a fraction of the products out there–they are still on shelves according to USA Today) may be endlessly boring but they ought to be inducing outrage–and lots of expressions of outrage to congressional representatives (easy to contact).

Jul 20 2007

More Funding for FDA?

The Senate Agricultural Appropriations Committee has just announced that it will give the FDA an extra $48 million to fund food safety oversight. In federal terms, this is chump change but at least it’s an admission that the FDA is not adequately funded to meet its regulatory obligations. Why so little? Note that the money comes from agricultural appropriations, not health appropriations. This is the result of an historical anomaly; the FDA used to be part of the Department of Agriculture. When it was split off and eventually joined to the Department of Health and Human Services, its appropriations stayed with Agriculture. This, of course, is precisely the wrong place for it and helps explain why the FDA is so badly underfunded for what it has to do to protect the public from unsafe food. This is also part of the reason why the Government Accountability Office has been calling for creating a separately funded food safety agency that would take politics out of the food aspects of public health. If you think the present situation makes no sense, this is a good time to contact your congressional representatives.