Thursday, January 12, 2012
IS IMPORTED FOOD LESS SAFE?
The recent Brazilian orange juice scare (see previous 2 posts) has U.S. consumers worried. But it actually was just one of a number of recalls of imported food in the last few months due to contamination of one kind or another.
We had several problems with Canadian imports (such as cheeses, deli meats), with seafood from Asia, olives from Italy, celery seeds from Egypt, pinenuts (probably grown in Turkey, but possibly processed elsewhere), various processed foods - such as bean curd - that came from China, and as usual, vegetables and herbs from Mexico. And that's only the tip of the iceberg.
In theory, all U.S. imported food products have to meet the same safety standards as domestically produced food. But this is difficult for a number of reasons (discussed much more in The Safe Food Handbook).
In recent years, more and more of these imported products originate in developing nations and newly industrialized countries. The food growing environment is sometimes - though not always - highly contaminated. In addition, frequently such countries have more risky production, harvesting, transport, storage and processing practices (detailed more in the book). And it is not just practices - the road and power infrastructure is often weak, equipment is old and in poor repair , and farm and plant workers are not just poorly educated but often also carriers of various pathogenic bacteria and parasites.
Yes, food is inspected before it leaves, and even the overseas food plants themselves are supposed to be inspected by the FDA and USDA - but who has the money to do this frequently and properly? As for inspection when the food arrives - after travelling thousands of miles, during which organisms such as bacteria can multiply - well, we know the answer by now. Roughly about 1.5% of imported food is inspected by the FDA at this time. Imports are going up and the inspection rate is unfortunately going down. So don't be surprised if some nasty pesticides, bacteria and other things gets through.
To your good health,