Friday, August 29, 2008

Recipe for disaster

For nearly two years now, I have covered the food safety beat here at Land Line, beginning when E. coli was found in bagged spinach, and some of our members were stuck with potentially affected product on their trailers and nowhere to go with it.

Since that outbreak, I have been on a quest to find out what recall procedures the FDA and the USDA have in place to protect truckers who may be in transit with bad food products when problems are discovered.

The scary news is there is minimal, if any, guidance out there from these agencies sworn to protect the nation’s food supply for what truckers hauling potentially contaminated products should do when a recall is issued. And even though food cannot get from farm to fork without trucks, these agencies still have not sought input on food safety issues from truckers’ perspectives.

And the outbreaks continue.

This week alone, I have been following food poisoning outbreaks linked to E.coli, Salmonella and listeria that further convince me that our food safety system is badly broken. While at least 11 food safety bills are floating around Washington, DC, this year, nothing has been approved. No one can uniformly decide what the heck to do to fix our ailing system to prevent more consumers from getting sick from the food that they trust to be safe.

According to a recent survey by the Center for Food Integrity, fewer than 20 percent of those surveyed strongly agreed that our government agencies are doing a good job of protecting our nation’s food supply.

This past week, more than 215,000 pounds of pepperoni “Hot Pockets” were recalled because they may contain plastic shards in them, and another company, Nebraska Beef Ltd. has recalled more than 1.2 million pounds of beef products because of potential E.coli contamination. A month earlier, this same company also voluntarily recalled more than 5.3 million pounds of beef products linked to more than 40 illnesses.

In Oklahoma, one person has died and as many as 30 others have gotten sick because of an E.coli outbreak after many ate at the same restaurant, the Country Cottage in Locust Grove, OK.

Our neighbors to the north are embattled in their own food safety nightmare this week as a listeria outbreak tied to a Maple Leaf Foods plant in North York, Ontario, has killed 12 people.

Just today, Thursday, Aug. 28, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the FDA announced that the outbreak tied to jalapeno and serrano peppers is over. More than 1,400 people in 43 states were sickened. The source of the contamination of the peppers is still unknown, although the FDA has lifted its warning against eating them.

And my co-workers wonder why I am no fun at the lunch table anymore.