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.
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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.
Eating Liberally’s kat wants to know why all of a sudden the FDA is getting some funding. Tomatoes? Not likely, as I explain.
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.