Monday, December 27, 2010
THE FOOD SAFETY AWARD GOES TO CNN
The new US food safety legislation, finally passed by the Senate a few days ago(see earlier blog), is supposed to strengthens the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Most importantly, it is supposed to make sure that the FDA focuses on preventing food borne illness, not just managing outbreaks once they occur. Of course, in theory that is what the FDA is supposed to have been doing all along. It just hasn't had the resources to do the job properly.
That prevention should include better public information - issued promptly if contaminated food does reach our markets, groceries and homes.
Unfortunately, the word "quickly" doesn't seem to exist in the FDA's prevention vocabulary. The FDA has to learn that each day counts. In fact, each hour counts. It doesn't take long for us to reach for that bad food and to eat it. But the FDA seems to think it just needs to protect the public 9-5 Monday to Friday, with holidays off. Unfortunately, food contaminants don't respect holidays. In fact, I almost get the feeling that they like to ensure at least one nasty seasonal outbreak just to yank our chain - contaminated Valentine's Day chocolates, contaminated turkey at Thanksgiving, nutmeg and gingerbread contamination just before Christmas day. You get the picture.
But over the Christmas holidays, the public was left exposed to food risk, with the FDA on vacation. Food alerts have been reaching me sooner through CNN (courtesy of news forwarded by my son, who is in the fashion business - nothing to do with food). The official FDA alert system, to which I belong, has notified me much later. That was the case with the recent outbreak in dog food, the one in nuts, and also, most recently, the one in baked goods.
Let me illustrate with one of the most recent food recalls. The very dangerous Staphylococcus aureus bacteria was discovered in Rolf's Pastry goods. The company is based in Chicago, but products are sold both on line and by major retailers, nationwide. One of the several contaminated pastry products found to be contaminated was Rolf's gingerbread houses, sold by Whole Foods in 23 states, decorated and packaged in clear plastic wrap, either under the Rolf's Patisserie label or Whole Foods' Market scale label. Naturally, they are often eaten by children, who are more vulnerable.
The FDA relayed the Whole Foods gingerbread and other Rolf's pastry recall information only today - Dec.27. Whole Foods had issued the recall on Dec. 24, which is when CNN reported it. That is, it was three days late. During those three days many children (whose parents and doctors did not catch the CNN alert) were more likely to become ill from eating gingerbread and pastries, and less likely to be correctly diagnosed and treated. That is not prevention. That is irresponsible!
I think I will give CNN the safe food award for 2010 - not the FDA.