If it teaches us nothing else, the problems with illness from fresh produce, will teach us the truth to the old saw about “putting all of your eggs in one basket”.
First it was spinach. Then tomatoes. Now possibly green onions.
Over the past three months, fresh produce has been the culprit in one episode of food-borne illness after another, the latest an E. coli outbreak that appears to be linked to green onions served at Taco Bell restaurants in the Northeast. More than 60 people have been sickened in that outbreak.
As some one said in an article recently, “it’s like we’re all washing our vegetables in the same tub of water”. That tub is located at the central processing plants.
Several factors have contributed to the rise in outbreaks: greater consumption of fresh produce, especially cut fruits and vegetables; wider distribution; improved electronic reporting of outbreaks; and an aging population more susceptible to food-borne illness. Produce presents a special food safety challenge because, unlike meat, which can be rid of bacteria through proper cooking, it is meant to be consumed raw. There is no “kill step,” as food safety experts put it.
From the reporting on the problems involved, our fresh produce is regulated by the same agency that is in charge of the safety of our drugs…Do you feel safer? The FDA’s budget is strapped and their inspection resources are low. So as more and more of the American food supply passes through fewer and fewer processors, we have fewer inspectors with no power to really regulate what they are charged with inspecting. Sounds like the perfect plan for disaster doesn’t it.
If nothing else, this should make everyone a little more interested in just where their food comes from. If you can find a local source of quality grown produce, patronize that grower if for no other reason than to insure diversity in your food supply. If you have a local farmer’s market, get to know the growers. Put a face on the person who supplies your lettuce and tomatoes. Visit their farms and have a look at how your food is being grown. Take responsibility for being your own inspector. That way you will develop a trust in your food supply that you can no longer have the government insure.