Header graphic for print

Food Safety News

Breaking news for everyone's consumption

Publisher’s Platform: Ode to the Microbiological Data Program

Opinion

I was going to take a weekend off from Publisher’s Platform. It has been a long couple of weeks of long days, and more than a few late nights, working on putting the cases together of the 22 injured people and the families of 20 who died in the 2011 Listeria cantaloupe outbreak that I represent.

We have a court imposed deadline of September 14 (which, coincidentally, is one year to the date of the recall) to present every client’s story. Every person and family has a story – all of them quite horrible and heroic. If we told them one by one, they would take up every page of Food Safety News through the end of the year.

But, let my tell you one fact: these families collectively have incurred to date over $8,000,000 in medical bills.  If you count in future medical bills and lost wages, you are now well into eight figures.  If you then add in the pain of the loss of a spouse or living your life with the after effects of Listeria meningitis, you are talking much, much more.  And, that is only 42 of the 147 the CDC counted.

After 20 years of doing this kind of work, it is easy for me to estimate that this one tragedy will ultimately cost business, government and the victims well over $100,000,000.

So, I really was going to take the weekend off and then Food Safety News reporter Helena Bottemiller (a.k.a. Lois Lane) wrote a story early Saturday morning about this summer’s cantaloupe, and now honeydew recall prompted by the Microbiological Data Program (MDP).

Burch Equipment LLC in North Carolina is expanding its recent recall of nearly 189,000 cantaloupes to now include all of this growing season’s cantaloupes and honeydew melons distributed in 18 states because they may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

In the U.S. Food and Drug Administration update, issued very early Saturday morning, the agency noted that here have been no illnesses reported to date — the recall expansion is based on FDA’s recent finding of Listeria monocytogenes on a honeydew melon grown and packed by Burch Farms.

The original recall of cantaloupes was initiated on July 28 after a MDP in New York found contaminated cantaloupe. Two days later, the recall was greatly expanded and the FDA warned the public to not eat the recalled melons after agency officials reported unsanitary conditions at the company’s packing shed.

Now, more than 10 days later, the company and FDA are casting a wider net on the potentially-contaminated melons, including honeydew, which were not previously part of the recall. Earlier this week, the company clarified that although it had originally identified Athena cantaloupes as the variety it was recalling, it was actually recalling Caribbean Gold variety.

So as Food Safety News Editor, Dan Flynn, put it a few months ago, let us thank the United Fresh Produce Association for:

-Killing the nation’s only (real) produce surveillance program (it is on life support until the years end and FDA has a small program).

-Turning Congress against the only (real) program to collect data on the prevalence of foodborne pathogens in domestic and imported produce.

-Leaving the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and state health departments in the dark about the incidence of pathogens in fresh produce commodities.

-Keeping tainting products in the marketplace – MDP testing has been responsible for 23 produce recalls during 2010 and 2011 alone, and 15 of these involved human illnesses.

Did I mention that MDP costs us taxpayers less than $5,000,000 per year?

© Food Safety News
  • Terry

    Great Story Bill! Go get em!

  • Peter Castellano

    Really don’t understand why such a relatively cheap program needs to be cut when this cost is clearly outweighed by the benefits to society as a whole. Sad…

  • http://www.ehmanley.com Ed Manley

    Bill you continually hit where it hurts. You make so much sense and very little else seems to make any sense. Shame on the UFPA, if I were a member I would quit. But it is just indicative of why we have so many problems in the U. S. Folks don’t take responsibility for their actions. I hope you win every lawsuit you file. You are the champion of the people!!! Thanks. Love your work.

  • http://murrayhillfarm.com Chuck Murray

    Awesome story! I know you are passionate about what you do as I am as an organic farmer. It is so very sad that our Federal government has their priorities all messed up. People need to know what you are writing about. Keep up the great work, think positive and hopefully things will get better soon.

  • http://murrayhillfarm.com Chuck Murray

    Awesome story! I know you are passionate about what you do as I am as an organic farmer. It is so very sad that our Federal government has their priorities all messed up. People need to know what you are writing about. Keep up the great work, think positive and hopefully things will get better soon.

  • A. Aydin

    Please every one, stop blaming the Federal govornment for this bad decision. Congress decides our tax money’s spending priorities. Stop electing people who don’t believe in having a government in the first place, let alone one that is willing to regulate anything that might inconvenience profit making of any businees and at any cost to the public. These people are willing to shoot themselves in the foot just to make a point about their anti-gov. and anti-regulation stand. They are for the old wild west life style, Survival for the richest, the meanest and the ones with the biggest arsenal. These same elected people would happily vote for a $5 Billion spending bill for any weapon system or any defence spending.

  • PLK

    With 23 produce recalls (15 involving foodborne illnesses)in 2010 and 2011, it sounds like the benefits of the MDP outweigh the costs. If true, the program should be expanded or enhanced rather than discontinued.

  • Carlo Silvestri

    Unfortunately but typically the politicians have caved into the big money. Dump them! They don’t care about people. All they seem to care about is feathering their own beds. Get rid of them.

  • Ruby

    Of course, as any fool recognizes, “know your farmer, know your food” makes all this bureaucratic food safety crap obsolete. Just get your blind trust working. You can never be poisoned by any food if only you will trust without question (and hand over your cash without hesitation). So, who needs a program? We don’t need no stinking program.