The FDA and CDC still don’t know the origin of the massive Salmonella outbreak, now extending to 40 states. They have lots of reasons, and under current conditions it’s not an easy problem since the production channels for things like tomatoes are labyrinthine. There’s lots of mixing, matching, diverting, and who knows what else going on as a tomato goes from a farm or hothouse to your table or local salad bar. We know this because FDA and CDC have been telling us so as explanation for why they still don’t know where a single clone of Salmnella saintpaul has managed to infect almost 1000 people so far with no end in sight. You’d think that FDA and CDC would be anxious to make that job easier. Of course you’d be wrong:
Fruit and vegetable producers should be required to use technology allowing U.S. regulators to trace origins of contaminated produce such as tomatoes, considered the probable cause of a current outbreak, consumer groups said.
Failure to identify the source of a salmonella outbreak that has sickened at least 922 Americans since mid-April shows why “emergency regulations” are needed to put in place new food- safety rules, the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Consumer Federation of America said today in a letter to Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach.
Growers should be required to mark fruits and vegetables with bar codes on stickers so they can be traced back to the farm of origin, the consumer groups said. Similar programs are now used voluntarily by some restaurants and retailers, and a standard code on all FDA-regulated items would improve record- keeping and speed investigations, they said.
Producers, packers, and processors should also be required to identify in writing gaps where contamination may occur in their operations and how to prevent it, the groups urged.
Kimberly Rawlings, a spokeswoman for the FDA, said she couldn’t immediately comment on the groups’ proposal.
The agency has favored voluntary guidelines over mandatory rules for food producers, even though certain producer organizations have backed tougher standards to improve consumer confidence in food products. (Catherine Larkin, Bloomberg)
This failure has cost producers dearly, not to mention those sickened by Salmonella. Many retailers and wholesalers already require this, among them Costco, McDonald’s and Jack-in-the-Box. Two Democrats, Bart Stupak and John Dingell of Michigan, are trying to get improved food safety regulations but when agencies like FDA drag their feet it is slow going. It’s hard not to conclude the reason is purely ideological: the Bush administration is “just saying no” to regulations, even when it’s good for business. It’s the principle of the thing, apparently. It’s OK to track and wiretap citizens, but they draw the line at tomatoes.
A broken agency in a broken system.