Three Years After Spinach Recall, Questions On Safety Linger

ABC News just broke with a story regarding the ongoing issue of lax salad product safety requirements. Pointing to a 2006 <"">E. coli outbreak that sickened over 200 people, killing three, “Good Morning America” revealed that, despite newly-implemented safety requirements to help stop bacterial tainting, no requirements exist to test salad products before release to the public, said ABC news.

And, while some food producers voluntarily test, because there is no regulation, program efficacy remains unclear, noted ABC News. ABC also pointed out that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is responsible for 80 percent of food in the U.S., the agency has had some issues. For instance, its Science Advisory Board released a report that stated, quoted ABC News, that the FDA was “at risk of failing to carry out its mandate, leaving our citizens at risk of grievous harm.”

The FDA conducts some 7,000 annual inspections of food processors; however, it only visits each processor about once every ten years. “We have to do better,” FDA commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg told the morning news show. “The food safety programs at FDA have been woefully under funded for years. There are serious gaps, and we can do better,” Dr. Hamburg added, reported ABC News.

Earthbound Farms was involved with 2006’s outbreak, said ABC News. “To find out that our product was associated with a national outbreak was absolutely devastating,” Earthbound vice president Will Daniels told “Good Morning America,” admitting that, “In hindsight there was more that we could do.” The outbreak’s origin was never discovered, but was believed to be connected to groundwater contaminated by wild pigs and cattle, wrote ABC News.

Since, said Daniels, the firm has redone its food safety practices, telling Good Morning America, “Our testing programs are designed to catch those contaminated products.” Today, the firm tests its salad products for pathogens twice before release to market, Daniels explained. Earthbound, said Daniels, processes two and a-half million pounds of leafy greens weekly, pulling some 3,000 pounds of tainted greens on the first and another 300 pounds in the second testing, said ABC News.

Joe Pezzini, the chief operating officer at Ocean Mist Farms and the chairman of the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement Board said that “Because of what happened in 2006, we had to take responsibility,” quoted ABC News. Ocean Mist was connected to the 2006 outbreak and the board developed the new standards, which includes audits, a 400-foot barrier separating cattle from salad fields, and monthly water testing, said ABC News. Critics feel the standards are insufficient.

“There’s no doubt that FDA needs additional authorities.” Hamburg said. “A system that’s solely based on voluntary compliance isn’t adequate. Especially since we know that there are some bad actors out there,” ABC News reported.

E. coli can lead to fatal blood poisoning, cystitis, deadly septicemia, and death and has been linked to drug-resistant cases. E. coli sickens about 73,000 and kills about 61 people each year. Last year, over 22 million pounds of beef and vegetables were recalled due to E. coli outbreaks.

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