Archive for the ‘Food Safety’ Category

Service of Cutting Corners for Efficiency and to Slash Costs

Monday, February 26th, 2018


In a recent episode of “Call the Midwife” on PBS, Sister Ursula, new to running things at Nonnatus House, insisted that the home visits to newborns and patients who had recently given birth could be no longer than 10 minutes in the interest of efficiency. Each midwife should be able to add to her daily load as a result.

Sister Ursula, right. Photo:

The staff tried to tell her that their work [in the east end of London in the 1950s], bore no relationship to postnatal care in a hospital setting but she was adamant.  As a result, one of the midwives, who had been reprimanded severely for staying longer with a patient than ordered a day before, left a mother and newborn promptly, not realizing that they were exposed to carbon monoxide in their overheated bedroom and the infant almost died. At the end the baby lived and Sister Ursula, recognizing that super-efficiency wasn’t always the answer, quit her job.

I thought of this fictitious episode when I read Benjamin Parkin and Patrick McGroarty’s Wall Street Journal article, “A Rush to Slaughter Provokes Opposition.” It’s another example of removing government oversight on a source of food, letting an industry oversee itself. “Proposed rules allowing meatpackers to slaughter hogs faster and play a bigger role in policing food safety are intended to free up government inspectors while making plants more efficient. But the rules, which could take effect this year, have drawn criticism.

“Consumer advocates question whether companies can guarantee the cleanliness of their pork while workers take on some tasks previously reserved for U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors. Meanwhile, worker-rights groups say speeding up slaughter lines would strain workers whose jobs are already difficult and dangerous.”

“Paul Kiecker, acting administrator of the USDA’s food-safety branch [said the] moves would let inspectors perform other duties such as checking on plant sanitation, which the agency deems a better way to promote food safety than having an inspector posted only to monitor specific points in the slaughtering process.”

According to the USDA “Diseases such as tuberculosis that an inspector can identify by sight are less common in livestock today, they say, while more pressing threats such as bacterial contamination are detected through laboratory tests. They say plant workers can be trained to perform tasks, such as preliminary health checks on glands and organs in slaughtered animals, that were previously performed by inspectors.”

Sure, the workers can be trained, but will they be? Doesn’t that cost money which clearly is not the objective. I am suspicious of the negative impact on citizens of cutbacks in government oversight on food production [beef is next] so I don’t know whom to believe. I fear the excessive profit motive pervasive today may affect us all adversely. Do you?


Service of Tweaks in Tomato Land: Is What’s Good for Shipping & Shelf Life Good for Me?

Thursday, August 11th, 2016

tomato 1

The words “safe” or “healthy” appeared nowhere in Daniela Hernandez’s Wall Street Journal article, “GMO Tomatoes May Stay Firm Longer–The genetic tweaks don’t significantly affect color and may preserve flavor, according to a new study.” She covered highlights from a paper published in Nature Biotechnology that showed that the modified tomatoes stayed firm for 14 days after they were picked, significant for shipping and shelf life.

When tomatoes are old they wrinkle

When tomatoes are old they wrinkle

And there was something else. The study, partially funded by Syngenta [seeds and pesticide], was performed at the University of Nottingham in the UK, a country that forbids people from eating genetically modified foods, so that nobody knows how these two-week-still-hard tomatoes taste!

Growing up in NYC before the advent of farmers’ markets, I disliked supermarket tomatoes that tasted at best like mushy apples. I realized how delicious the fruit can be when I lived in a foreign country where farmers waited until the fruit was a deep red before picking and selling.

“It’s unlikely the same DNA-wrangling technologies will be used for tomatoes grown commercially,” wrote Hernandez. “The tomato market isn’t big enough to ‘justify the cost of going through the regulatory hoops’ necessary to sell genetically modified tomatoes, said USDA plant molecular biologist James Giovannoni. ‘That is why the GMOs [genetically modified organisms] currently in the market are major crops, like maize or soy.’”

Tomato 3 commercialHernandez continued: “The research’s benefit is providing a road map to genes breeders could target. It’s more likely they would cross tomatoes with less pectate-lyase activity to commercial varieties and select those that are firm and tasty, he added.” [Not quite sure what that means.] “That will require growers to figure out what conditions give them optimal flavor and texture, at the right harvest time.”

So should I worry about the definition of “commercial growers?” Obviously they sell to behemoths like Del Monte and Heinz but what about the farmers who sell to small grocery stores, restaurants and at farmers’ markets—will their tomatoes eventually be tweaked to support more favorable shipping and storage or are they subject to the same complicated regulations as commercial growers? Do you believe that a genetically fiddled tomato will be safe and healthy to eat?

tomato 2

Service of a Glacial Pace When it Comes to Food Safety: Key Word–Preventable

Thursday, September 24th, 2015


Even advocates of the Slow Movement might agree that it’s taken far too long for the Food and Drug Administration to create and implement rules for the five year old Food Safety Modernization Act. Congress passed the act, wrote Jesse Newman, “after a wave of deadly outbreaks in the past decade stemming from contaminated fruit, spinach, peanut butter and other products.”

So hurry up, already, before someone else gets sick and/or dies!

With the new rules, the feds can take action before—not after—foods are found to be tainted. Newman added that manufacturers will have to “detail in writing” their food-safety steps. But don’t breathe sighs of relief just yet. According to Newman, food companies large and small have until 2018 to comply, though the larger ones must move more quickly.

And then there’s insufficient funding. More about that later.

Food safetyIn “FDA Tightens Its Food-Safety Rules,” Newman wrote: “About 48 million people, or one in six Americans, get sick each year from foodborne diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 128,000 people are hospitalized, and 3,000 die annually.”

Those made ill from tainted peanut butter who are still alive might find solace in this week’s Associated Press [AP] headline “Ex-Peanut Exec gets 28 Years in Prison for Deadly Salmonella Outbreak.” The executive, Stewart Parnell, was the owner of Peanut Corporation of America. According to the AP, this was “the stiffest punishment ever handed out to a producer in a foodborne illness case. The outbreak in 2008 and 2009 killed nine Americans and sickened hundreds more, and triggered one of the largest food recalls in U.S. history.”

PeanutsParnell knew that he’d shipped contaminated peanut butter, the federal jury determined. The AP reported that Judge W. Louis Sands said, “‘These acts were driven simply by the desire to profit and to protect profits notwithstanding the known risks.”

The killer is that these incidents needn’t happen. “Largely preventable” were the words the FDA deputy commissioner for food and veterinary medicine used in Newman’s article. The reporter mentioned the latest listeria outbreak in ice cream that killed three people and the fact that “Blue Bell neglected practices that might have prevented listeria contamination.” And then there were the Mexican cucumbers that contained salmonella and lately made people sick in 30 states.

PreventableBut there’s another snag: Insufficient funding. The FDA says it needs $260 million to implement the rules but House and Senate appropriations bills for 2016 are under $100 million. Maybe they can take some money from health insurers who have to pay the hospital and medical bills of people who didn’t have to get sick in the first place.

Given that members of Congress and the FDA and their families eat food, and we clearly can’t depend on manufacturers to take the right steps on their own, I’m puzzled at the sluggish pace they’ve agreed to to avert preventable, potentially life-threatening measures. And you? Is there a better way? Have you ever been made sick by tainted food? Isn’t it incredible that due to lack of responsibility of so many we even need such regulations?

vintage family eating dinner

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