Sunday, September 19, 2004

How Safe Is The Food Supply?

There has been a lot of talk, in recent years, about protecting the food supply from poisoning by terrorists. This was proven somewhat possible by a religious group several years ago in a small town in Oregon. I believe our money and fears are pointed in the wrong direction. The food supply is not safe to begin with. Every year there are recalls on products in the food supply. Probably the most frequent recall is for ground beef.

Ground beef is a special case because of the ease in which bacteria proliferate and thus poison those who eat it. It is one of the most common causes of food poisoning. This wouldn't be a problem if all ground beef was cooked to a temperature that killed the bacteria. We all know however that very few people or restaurants are going to check the temperature of every hamburger etc.

What makes the problem more severe however is the supply chain from feedlot to consumer. The supply chain has become so efficient that the product is sold before the recalls go out. This is not near as unusual as people believe. In the case cited in the article, the meat was processed more than two weeks before the company initiated a recall. This meat was sold in several states at both the restaurant and retail levels. This is totally unacceptable reporting.

These recalls need to be initiated before the consumer has a chance to buy the product. It doesn't matter whether it's a hamburger at a restaurant or at the local grocer. How many people even hear about these recalls? It might be a blurb on the evening news, or be on page seven of the local paper. What it is not, is news. Not until several people have died, or several hundred become ill from eating it.

Worrying about terrorist attacks on the food supply is a waste of time if we cannot even guarantee that the normal supply of food is safe. This was a 'Class I' recall which carries a high risk of illness or death. Yet nothing is said on the news.

The producers and government need to do a better job of keeping the public informed. They also need to design quicker tests for food products. Our safety is in their hands, yet once again they fail us. It does no good for a recall to go out on a product, if your son or daughter is lying in the morgue before the recall is initiated.


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