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Letter From The Editor: Is That All There Is?

Peggy Lee always sang girl songs with an edge. Consider the one that included these lyrics:

Is that all there is, is that all there is

If that’s all there is my friends, 

then let’s keep dancing

Let’s break out the booze and have a ball

If that’s all there is

This week’s end of the St. Louis E. coli O157:H7 outbreak brought that song to mind. Sixty confirmed cases in 10 states and the investigation ends without naming where the contaminated romaine lettuce came from because the grower’s records were messed up.

Wow. What’s the lesson there for other growers?  

A partial credit goes to Schnucks Markets for admitting that it is the grocery identified only as “Chain A” in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) investigation report. Of course, that was already known from previous facts in evidence.

Saying there were no known food safety violations or positive test results, Schnucks declined to name its supplier. Earth to Schnucks, lousy record keeping is a food safety violation, or damn well should be.  

Until it decided to cover up the name of its lettuce supplier, Schnucks could say it was putting food safety first, but not any more. As a result, consumers are probably going to look at the St. Louis grocery store chain with a little less trust.

For the 60 people who ate the contaminated romaine and got sick, including the two-thirds who required hospital stays and the two who battled kidney-damaging hemolytic uremic syndrome, the CDC’s report means nobody is stepping up to take responsibility for this 10-state tragedy

Give Missouri state health director Margaret Donnelly some credit, however. Not only did her department stand alone in putting out daily updates on the outbreak, but she is the one who acknowledged that the California grower’s poor record keeping is what made the investigation come up short. We did not get that from CDC.

We are thankful nobody died in this outbreak.  But for 60 people in 10 states, it’s likely that this experience with E. coli O157:H7 ruined their 2011. Somewhere in the retailer-distributor-grower chain, someone should have be found responsible, but that did not happen.

Donnelly told the Missouri House Appropriations Committee that in about half the outbreaks of foodborne illness, the source is never found.

That means that about half the time we all pay, in higher insurance premiums and higher taxes.

That’s all there is my friends.  Nothing to do, but keep dancing.

© Food Safety News