Salmonella and Foodborne Illnesses Ruin Holidays for Many Americans; FDA Still Chasing Causes

The FDA has recalled sprouts due to a salmonella outbreak.No time is a good time to get food poisoning, but you may have noticed there’s been a lot of that going around during the 2010 holiday season. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recalled several products in the last few weeks, including alfalfa sprouts and spicy sprouts from Illinois, cilantro and curly parsley from Texas, as well as many items from Rolf’s Patisserie in Illinois (ginger bread houses, lemon meringue pie and Tofu Pot Pie included).

The Little Bear-branded cilantro and parsley came from Texas-based J&D Produce. The items were packed between Nov. 30 and Dec. 6 and expired more than 10 days ago. The sprouts came from Illinois-based Tiny Greens Organic Farm and are linked to 89 cases of salmonella in 15 states and the District of Columbia since Nov. 1. Twenty five people who ate the sprouts at Jimmy John’s sandwich shops became ill.

The owner of Tiny Greens says that all of the 120 samples that the FDA took from his property did not test positive for the bacteria. And the CEO of Jimmy John’s admitted the recall was precautionary. This just goes to show two things:  First, the food that comes from organic farms is not necessarily any safer than the food that comes from non-organic facilities. And second, a significant amount of damage is already done by the time the FDA takes a case and figures out the source of the outbreak.

Salmonella bacteria has been found in many food sources by the FDA this 2010 holiday season.The residual effects of determining the cause of an outbreak are only positive (see below), but at the same time, companies involved in the production and processing of food need to have quality assurance measures and other safety-minded policies and procedures in place before the FDA shows up in the first place.

In the case of Texas-based J&D Produce, the owner there also noted that none of the samples that were taken from his property tested positive for salmonella, and that no one complained of getting sick from his products. It is clear that the science of identifying the source of many food poisoning outbreaks is imprecise. However, the owner of J&D Produce stated that the FDA made his company stop and sanitize all production lines, add manual inspections, rinse its products more thoroughly and bring in consultants. The owner admitted that his company’s expectations and standards have risen to an even higher level, and that his systems have already improved.

You would think that the potential bad publicity surrounding a salmonella outbreak, or any outbreak of foodborne illness for that matter, would be enough to encourage those in the food business to run a tight ship. Perhaps a small percentage of the outbreaks could not necessarily be avoided. But looking back at recent history, there are plenty of businesses that are devoid of sound policies and procedures when it comes to producing safe food items.

The FDA linked cilantro and other foods to a salmonella outbreak this 2010 holiday season.You only need to look at recent food-related articles on eDrugstore to see that food production and processing in the U.S. is a concern for both the public and the government. For instance, one in six Americans is stricken with foodborne illness each year. And, the U.S. Senate voted last month to initiate a complete overhaul of the U.S. food safety system.

One good thing to come out of all of this is that the FDA now appears to be more proactive in the immediate pursuit of the causes of foodborne illness. Certainly, more changes are on the way.

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