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Do Food Safety Fixes Miss the Mark?

A working group created by President Obama to recommend ways to fix the nation's faltering food-safety system yesterday released proposals for ensuring eggs contaminated with salmonella don't make their way into consumers' hands. The guidelines are a long time coming; they've been kicking around for at least a decade now, according to The Post's The Federal Eye blog yesterday. (According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, eggs contaminated with a single strain of salmonella cause an estimated 142,000 illnesses a year.) The group intends soon to issue recommendations for reducing salmonella contamination of poultry and E. coli contamination of beef.

Great start. But in those ten years, raw or undercooked eggs and poultry have been joined by many other sources of salmonella-related sickness. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention maintains a list of outbreaks of illness from salmonella contamination. None of the high-profile outbreaks in recent years has involved eggs. (Don't forget: Nestle recalled its raw Toll House cookie dough products recently because of contamination with E. coli, bacteria not commonly associated with eggs.) Instead, major culprits have been jalapeno peppers, alfalfa sprouts, dry dog food and, most recently, peanut butter. Prompt recalls of pistachios contaminated with salmonella apparently averted a big outbreak of illness related to their consumption.

The working group's proposals also include plans to issue by the end of the month guidelines for protecting consumers against melons, tomatoes and leafy greens containing microbial contaminants. While a minor outbreak of salmonella contamination in April 2008 involved melons, tomatoes were wrongly accused of being the source of a big outbreak last summer (though they did cause smaller outbreaks in the fall of 2006); jalapeno peppers turned out to be the actual source.

I appreciate any efforts to clean up the food supply. But so far the new proposals don't sound like government at its most nimble or responsive to me. What am I missing?

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  July 8, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Food Safety and Recalls  
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One of my concerns about these new food safety initiatives is that it may put an unfair burden on small, local producers (those who sell their eggs/meat/produce at a local farmer's market, for instance) in order to try to stop a growing problem with large agribusinesses.

Several of the large recent outbreaks of salmonella could have been avoided had the large processing plants been following regulations that are have been in place for years.

Posted by: skm1 | July 8, 2009 10:43 AM | Report abuse

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