Stolen: Food inspection reform needed " quickly
April 7, 2009
The FDA currently has a warning to avoid eating all pistachios and products containing the nuts until further investigation. I think it is encouraging that my City Market receipts recently had on them, recall warnings regarding the potentially salmonella-contaminated peanut products I had bought. Credit this to technology, that now food you purchased is all in the computer and this can now be tracked when you use your grocery card. I did return 2 items for a refund, but I had already used a nut mixture on some cookies I had made.
The peanut recall which is still ongoing is the one of the biggest recalls in US history: 1,800 peanut-containing products have been recalled. This is very so very widespread, because the contamination occurred in peanut-and peanut products distributed by Peanut Corporation of America to institutional and industrial users for sale or for further processing by other companies into peanut-containing products like granola bars and even pet foods.
As of the end of February the number of people diagnosed with food-borne illness from these salmonella-contaminated peanut products from Peanut Corporation of America was 666 in 45 states, and there were eight deaths. The illnesses will continue to occur if people eat recalled peanut-containing products that are still on their shelves at home. As a result of this, Peanut Corporation of America is now out of business. One of the former managers who worked at the PCA in 2006 stated that the processing plant in Texas was lacking sanitary conditions ” leaky roof and filthy equipment. This manager tried to alert via e-mail the president of the company and the health department of Texas, but got no response. He finally spoke to the press because his granddaughter got sick after eating peanut butter from the Texas processing plant. The company continued to ship peanut product even though tests showed salmonella contamination at the processing plant in Blakely, Ga. Furthermore, this company was found by the Food and Drug Administration, to have allegedly shipped Salmonella-tainted products 12 times in 2007 and 2008.
In April, there is another recall, this time of pistachio nuts. Setton International Foods Inc., in N.Y., an affiliate of the nation’s second-largest processor of pistachio foods, recently flunked a food safety inspection. Live and dead cockroaches and rodent droppings were found inside its plant. The facility may be the source of contaminated pistachios. This facility makes chocolate and yogurt-coated nuts and dried fruit. Pistachios grown and processed by Setton Pistachio were sold to large food makers, grocery stores and retail stores including Wal-Mart, Kraft Foods, and Kroger (City Market).
How was this allowed to happen? The Food and Drug Administration is accused of reacting too slowly. It has chronically been understaffed and under-funded. Twenty-five percent of Americans suffer from food-borne illnesses every year, and thousands die. Recalled food has been a problem all too frequently. Forty percent of our fresh food is imported, and many from developing countries with poor controls on sanitation. Many organizations have been calling for years for a reorganization of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration and other agencies to create a single, centralized food inspection authority. Hopefully these recent incidents will motivate our current government to enact some reforms. President Obama recently appointed a new head of the FDA, Dr. Margaret Hamburg. She is an emerging disease specialist and a leading public health expert and has the credentials to enact much needed reform to this agency. Lets hope it happens quickly.
Dr. Joanne Stolen recently retired from Rutgers University where she taught microbiology. Her scientific interests are in emerging infectious diseases and environmental pollution. She is now full-time resident of Breckenridge.