It’s always frustrating to see a failure within your industry, especially when you’re sure that you could have prevented such a breakdown. This is what’s happening now, as food safety advocates are speaking out against potentially preventable food safety issues like the recently publicized salmonella-tainted cantaloupes that have killed two and sickened over a hundred since July or an even more recent instance of possible E. coli-contaminated romaine lettuce being shipped to 19 states, Puerto Rico, and Canada.
USA Today reports on advocates who are frustrated with the latest incidents, including food safety advocate Nancy Donley:
Food-safety advocate Nancy Donley said she's "hopping mad" over the latest outbreak. "These illnesses and deaths are preventable," said Donley, a spokeswoman for STOP Foodborne Illness. Her group has urged the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to more quickly put out new regulations, based on authority from 2010 legislation. "This shouldn't have happened."
To be fair, we’ve received letters in the past suggesting that it isn’t the fault of cantaloupe farmers if their fruits come in contact with pathogens – that the responsibility should lay squarely with the consumers to wash the cantaloupe before they eat it. Fair enough, but as further food safety experts explain to USA Today it’s not quite that simple:
A cantaloupe's rough, porous skin is an easy target for bacteria, which cling to the bumps on its surface. Bacteria don't stick as easily to the hard, smooth rinds of honeydews and watermelons, says Douglas Powell, a professor of food safety at Kansas State University.
Cantaloupes growing on the ground can also pick up dirt and germs from manure that runs off from livestock fields, or from farm workers' unsanitary bathroom practices, Powell says. Throwing cantaloupes into a big wash tub can also lead to contamination, unless farmers regularly check the water's chlorine levels. Farmers also need to ensure that employees wash their hands. And farmers should never use raw manure on their fields, he says.
It's almost impossible for consumers to adequately wash cantaloupes at home, Powell says. The knives used to cut cantaloupes transfer bacteria to the inside.
Consumers and foodservice professionals absolutely have a responsibility to prepare produce properly and exercise food safety. But, like it or not, food producers and processors also carry a lot of the weight when it comes to ensuring that those fruits and vegetables aren’t contaminated in the first place. In other words – and, ideally, to the shock of no one – it’s up to everyone to keep the supply chain safe. It may not be 100 percent foolproof (what is in the real world anyway?), but if that kind of mentality gets food-borne illness instances down to a minimum it’s well worth it.
[SOURCE: USA Today]