Header graphic for print

Food Safety News

Breaking news for everyone's consumption

Letter From The Editor: Coincidences & Routines

If you are like I am, you probably don’t believe much in coincidence.

For two years running now, Cargill Meat Solutions has announced major meat recalls for Salmonella contamination during the annual meeting of the International Association for Food Protection (IAFP).

A coincidence?

It was last Aug. 3 on the last day of IAFP’s 2011 meeting in Milwaukee that Cargill went public with the 36 million pound recall of turkey products for contamination with a multi-drug resistant strain of Salmonella Heidelberg.

And was on July 22, the first day of IAFP’s 2012 meeting in Providence that Cargill announced a recall of nearly 30,000 pounds of fresh ground beef for Salmonella Enteritidis (SE) contamination. SE responds to antibiotic treatment.

To coincidence, there was the added irony of Mike Robach, Cargill’s vice president for corporate food safety and regulatory affairs, giving the key address at the 11th Annual Scientific Symposium, an evening event held on the side of IAFP.

Coincidences were not the subject of Robach’s remarks, but rather he spoke of the good that can come of microbiological testing. I was not there, but some who were in attendance opted not be difficult with questions.

Now I’ve thought about it. It occurred to me that timing your recall to occur during the one week when the top local, state and federal food safety people are out of their labs and offices might have a purpose.

But this year, those involved all knew of the multistate outbreak before Cargill announced its SE-related beef recall. Some were on the phones working the problem when they arrived in Rhode Island.

And last year, Cargill’s problem with drug-resistant Salmonella in its turkey was announced on the last day of the conference. Those involved got to go home and work on the problem.

So I’m chalking this one up to “just coincidence,” but I will keep a wary eye the calendar for July 28-31, 2013, when IAFP next meets.

One of the pitfalls of being on the road for a week is getting out of the routine. Food Safety News proudly associates with eFoodAlert, produced by author Phyllis Entis, herself a food safety microbiologist. I usually stay current with eFoodAlert, but missed one entry I am now recommending everyone read.

It concerns the piss-poor job the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does in giving the public the last known location of recalled food. USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) now makes retail lists public for all important meat and poultry recalls. If public health is threatened, USDA figures the public has a right to know if their meat store sold the product.

Not so at FDA. Phyllis goes into the details, but FDA basically uses the lame-ass excuse that the Freedom of Information Act prohibits it from naming names. (This is the U.S. government, where every year is 1984.)

I think the real reason is that FDA does not want to do the work that would be required to truly protect the public from dangerous recalled food. If it did it would not be citing some Reagan era Executive Order about not disclosing commercial information that could “cause substantial competitive harm.”

Not only would any threat to the public health trump any claim of competitive harm, being named as involved in a recall is no more a threat to competitive harm that having a company’s trucks involved in an accident on the freeway. None of the companies that FSIS is now routinely naming has any claim of competitive harm.

Such a claim would be ridiculous — like those coming from FDA. Did I also mention that at some levels, FDA is slothful and lazy?

For a more calm and complete report, check out “Government Transparency–An Oxymoron: Updated,” published by eFoodAlert on July 25.

© Food Safety News
  • Agree with you.
    The USDA is extraordinarily helpful when filling FOIA requests. I’ve always had good responses from it.
    And every other agency, including the EPA (which isn’t the easiest agency to submit a FOIA request to), provides names if the entity is a commercial enterprise of some form.
    All it would take would be to challenge the FDA in court.