Thirty People Died From Cantaloupe, Why?
Last year thirty people died from listeria laden cantaloupes from Jensen Farms. Jensen Farms declared bankruptcy They have set as side $4.500.000.00 dollars for the victims. A lot of farmers were hurt because people were reluctant to by cantaloupe. 144 people got sick. One of the dead people was a fetus. Listeria is very bad for pregnant women.
One may wonder how this happens. Isn’t our food routinely inspected? The sad truth is that the FDA has only 1,100 inspectors . They inspect produce facilities every 4 to 7 years. If they see something wrong they do not come back to verify that it has been corrected. With the CDC estimating that 48 million people getting sick from food-borne pathogens every year, this is totally inadequate. Some farms are not in any hurry to make changes.
Publix Supermarkets realizing that this level of inspection was inadequate insisted that the farms and packing houses they use be inspected more often. Most other supermarkets followed suit. they require that there suppliers use contracted inspectors. Several months before the listeria out break the FDA inspected Jensen Farms. they noted several problems with their sanitation In August of 2010 six days before the listeria outbreak, Jensen Farms was inspected again by a contractor.This inspection gave Jensen farms a 96 out of 100 which sounds good. But they also listed things that Jensen farms were doing wrong. The supermarket seem to pay more attention to the score of 96 and no attention to the problems listed on the bottom of the report.
After a long and expensive investigation of Jenson Farms following the outbreak, the FDA recommended that cantaloupe farms and packing houses follow the recommendations that were previously published by the FDA. They also suggested that cantaloupes should be precooled.
Precooling is a process to take the field heat out of the cantaloupe. When a pallet of cantaloupe is put in a regular cooler, it can take around 7 hours to cool the cantaloupe in the center of the pallet. During this time bacteria can grow. A precooler forces cold air or cold water through the cases of cantaloupe so that the cantaloupe cools in less than an hour.
Because it was a recommendation rather than a regulation, there was no rush of cantaloupe growers to buy precoolers. If they precool their cantaloupe and their competition does not, they have to charge more for there cantaloupe and their business will be negatively impacted.
What can be done to improve regulation and reduce this threat to public health? Following such an outbreak, Congress passed a bill to fund the Food Safety Act of 2010 with 38 million dollars. This seems like a lot of money. However, when you consider that the CDC estimates there are 48 million cases of disease from food borne pathogens every year, this is slightly over 83 cents per person. These are not all life-threatening illnesses, but when you consider days of work missed and doctor visits, it’s likely to cause billions of dollars in economic impact.
Most farms are responsible and put out good healthy products, but there are a few that try to take shortcuts. If all the FDA recommendations were followed, we would find a dramatic decrease in disease. We need more enforcement and regulation, rather than recommendations.
Consider: If an airplane falls from the sky, the FAA investigates. If they have a faulty part on the plane, they ground similar planes until they can be inspected. Then they make regulations to address the problems they find. In this way, they save lives. The FDA needs to do the same.
The country is afraid of regulation right now. But after the fiasco with the banks, it’s time we rethink when regulation is needed. The amount of money lost by cantaloupe producers because people were afraid to eat cantaloupe may even be comparable to the cost of regulation.
The there were three major things wrong at Jensen Farms
1 The machine that washed the cantaloupe could not be thoroughly be cleaned. It was made for potatoes. Sense potatoes are cooked they have lower standards.
2 There was standing water on the floor of the packing house.
3 A garbage truck was parked beside the packing house. This truck carried cantaloupe that was not good enough to sell and dumped them in a cow pasture. It was possible that listeria was in the dirt where the cows where the cows took a dump
Things we can do:
- Join the Make Our Food Safe Coalition - http://www.makeourfoodsafe.org/
- Tell your senator and congressman that you want the FDA funded through the Department of Health and Human Services rather than the USDA. (At present FDA receives 20% of the available funds, while the USDA receives 80 %)
- Tell your congressman and senators to fully fund the FDA.
- Wash all produce and use a vegetable brush.
- Do not set unwrapped produce on a counter or in the refrigerator without washing.
- Do not use the same cutting board for meat and produce.
- If you use reusable cloth grocery bags, wash between uses.
- Check out http:www.foodsafety.gov/ for more food safety tips.
Some of the information in this report came from Produce News Magazine