Saving Food Safety?
October 19, 2011
Just hours after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced a listeria outbreak associated with cantaloupes resulted from rusty equipment that had been collecting water in a single packing shed in Colorado, trade groups released announcements assuring consumers the industry overall is using safe practices.
“We are confident that California and Arizona cantaloupe producers have the controls and preventive practices in place to ensure the safety of the over 45 million cases of cantaloupes grown in this region,” said Tom Nasiff, president and CEO of Western Growers Association, in a statement. That accounts for 85 percent of the country's total volume.
The ag industry worries a single outbreak can taint an entire industry, and with good reason. After an E. Coli outbreak associated with spinach in 2006, when the FDA warned consumers to avoid fresh spinach entirely, the leafy greens industry took more than a $60 million hit. Since then, the ag industry's been pushing for technology-aided traceback tools that would make source identification easier, allowing officials and businesses to conduct “surgical recalls, rather than category-killers,” says Ed Treacy of the Produce Marketing Association.
The cantaloupe outbreak began in mid-September, and even though Jensen Farms voluntarily recalled melons, 123 people in 26 states were sickened and 25 were left dead.
The FDA's findings come just a week after River Ranch Fresh Foods in Salinas voluntarily recalled over 2,000 cases of bagged salad for listeria. There were no reported illnesses associated with the salads, which had been distributed in Iowa, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Also today, Markon Cooperative announced a $100,000 contribution to UC Davis's Center for Produce Safety. President Tim York, who served as the center's board chair from 2007 through this year, “Food safety is paramount to each and every one of our businesses,” explains Markon’s president, said in a statement, “The best way we can provide our customers with confidence is by supporting the research, staying informed, and enacting the latest directives within our businesses.”
The center for produce safety has called upon industry to raise $8 million by 2014 for continued industry-focused research.
Photo credit: Cbertel via Flickr