Strong Comments on Local and Global Food Safety, Part 1

Yesterday, the Toledo Blade published an editorial titled “Food for Thought“. One sentence of this editorial rather accurately describes the current administration’s inadequacy in this area:

It was a rich irony, and perfectly indicative of the government’s failure to adequately confront this issue, that on the same day that President Bush announced a new panel on imported food and product safety, opining that “it’s important for the American people to know their government is on top of this situation,” another recall was publicized: cans of hot dog chili sauce that has been linked to botulism.

As in any good editorial, the writer gave their own suggestions:

Perhaps, rather than trying to ensure the safety of food as it passes through our borders, a better way would be to work more closely with exporting nations to ensure the safety of the food as it is gathered, harvested, and processed overseas, or the safety of products as they are manufactured. This will necessitate collaboration with some countries unwilling to open their factories, fields, or processing plants to U.S. scrutiny, but exporting nations want their products and foodstuffs on the shelves of American stores.

This makes perfect sense, especially when we already perform these same kinds of functions with some sweatshops worldwide in the clothing industry.

But there’s another side to this issue that should be discussed. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you already know how I feel on this subject. Linking what I’ve previously mentioned to global food safety also makes sense.

There is a serious over-regulation of some food safety issues in this country. Sometimes this isn’t a government issue. My one sister and her best friend have both cooked in a nursing home kitchen for over 30 years. They’ve been made to understand by their supervisors that, if chicken doesn’t have an internal temperature of 190F when it’s removed from the oven to be served, they’ll be fired.

After 30 years, you’d think someone in management there would lighten up. My take on this is located here.

In the United States, every restaurant, every hot dog cart, cotton candy stand, elephant ear trailer and roadside rib joint, must absolutely be inspected by a local health department each and every year. At Taste of the Nation: Toledo by The Docks on April 29th, I videotaped three health inspectors making the rounds, checking the temperatures of ingredients in coolers and charting them, hair nets in-place, calibrated digital thermometers at-the-ready. This past June 30th I refused return customers I’d sold handmade corndogs to last year at our City-Wide Yard Sales because I didn’t have an inspection and resulting permit. Cities are now attempting to require restaurants to include calorie counts on menu boards (which some are refusing to do), trans fats are being labeled as the bad guys (what happened to carbs?), and even foie gras is being banned “because we said so“.

Meanwhile, other areas of food safety have some serious problems. 

MSNBC stays on one track that’s positively scarey. For years now, the network has investigated the lack of real food safety in public school cafeterias, for example, in this article from November 2004. More recently, from an article this past March:

Millions of children eat in school cafeterias that don’t get the twice-yearly health inspections required by Congress to help prevent food poisoning … Schools are supposed to get two visits from health inspectors every year. But one in 10 schools didn’t get inspected at all last year, according to Agriculture Department data obtained by The Associated Press. Thirty percent were visited only once.

Here’s the reality: Regulators are focusing on all the wrong areas of food safety.

School cafeterias are not being inspected as they should be. The inspections of imported foods is down from 8% in 1992 to a currently sad state of 1%, the USA Today reported in March. There are more food safety recalls than most folks are even aware of, with the weekly report for July 18, 2007 being available here. And while the National Restaurant Association has developed its own food safety and training curriculum called ServSafe, it’s painfully obvious a lot of restaurants just don’t get it.

When it comes to the editorial in yesterday’s Blade, I’m in full agreement. But frankly, the whole so-called “food safety” system in this country needs a flippin’ overhaul.

Don’t tell me the CDC’s FoodNet is going to study foodborne illness and do something about it. This thing’s been in-place 11 years now, and for what? What good has come from it? Has the number of cases of foodborne illness gone down since FoodNet’s inception? Look at any of the preliminary data from FoodNet and you’ll find the following statements near the top of even the most recent report:

This report describes preliminary surveillance data for 2006 and compares them with baseline data from the period 1996–1998. Incidence of infections caused by Campylobacter, Listeria, Shigella, and Yersinia has declined since the baseline period. Incidence of infections caused by Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli O157 (STEC O157) and Salmonella, however, did not decrease significantly, and Vibrio infections have increased, indicating that further measures are needed to prevent foodborne illness and achieve national health objectives.

Look at the table at the bottom of that same report. I’m not so sure FoodNet is money well-spent after looking at both ends of that thing.

More later in Part 2 …

1 Comment

Add a Comment
  1. well said.

    While I am all for food safety regulations and inspections, things like banning foie gras and trans fat makes me sick to my stomach. We as Americans should have a choice in what we eat – I don’t need no stinkin’ government to tell me that I can’t eat trans fat. You want a healthier, fitter nation? It starts with inspiring citizens to get off their lazy asses NOT heavy hands of the gvt.

    btw thanks for the nod on SE! love u man!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *