Note: At this time, the credibility of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is not to be trusted. Both agencies have shown a reckless disregard for the public’s right to know, and their reliability going forward remains suspect.

For the next six weeks, Food Safety News will publish the note above on every story involving the FDA or CDC. It’s going to be our little way of reminding our readers that the FDA and CDC spent the last six weeks or so lying to the public every damn day.

The official lies are over yet another outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 from contamination of romaine lettuce. FDA and CDC have a lame excuse for hiding the outbreak from the public for six weeks.

There have been three recent E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks likely caused by romaine. Deadly and embarrassing outbreaks for romaine growers and the regulating agencies. Almost 300 people in those three outbreaks were infected and six people are dead.

Embarrassing because the Leafy ‘Greens Marketing Associations that mandate every aspect of how romaine may be grown are not doing the job, and the FDA’s Produce Rule might be impressive as somebody’s college thesis, but it is not yet effective regulation.

And this fourth romaine outbreak in less than two years occurred at an inopportune time, especially for FDA and its “Smarter Food Safety” campaign. It’s easy to see why the agencies wanted this one to just go away.

But hide it they did. Another romaine lettuce outbreak with 23 people infected from July 12 to Sept. 8 in a dozen states were facts keep from the public. It was a little secret kept from the public by the government and growers.

“The FDA is communicating details about the outbreak at this time to help ensure full awareness by the public and to highlight the ongoing importance of industrial action to help ensure the safety of leafy greens,” FDA said when it finally fessed up.

And, FDA finally went public because only because it got caught.

Most of what the agency said was Micky Mouse. The product being beyond its shelf life has never been a reason for not sharing outbreak information with the public.

The public’s been getting a steady diet of these romaine outbreaks.

CDC officials notified FDA officials about this latest one on Sept. 19. Neither agency notified the public. The agencies agreed they had another romaine outbreak on their hands on Oct. 2.

The CDC also offered the lame excuse that outbreak warnings are “generally posted when there is something actionable for consumers to do.”

This strikes me as a statement consistent with a coverup. It has not been CDC policy. Outbreak reports are routinely issued without something actionable for people to do. And, public education about public health, part of CDC’s mission, is about keeping the public up to date on foodborne diseases.

The FDA and CDC decided to keep secrets for industry instead of serving the public, there is a question of whether they jumped or were pushed to reveal the outbreak. We may never know. We cannot compel the government to tell the truth

This lame excuse they’ve used, however, is one we’ve heard before. Before anyone had ever heard of this cow bacteria/lettuce problem, there was a national program that tested fresh produce for foodborne pathogens. It was USDA’s Microbiological Data Program (MDP).

The way it worked was that the USDA paid about a dozen Land Grant universities to test fresh produce in their areas around harvest time. It was sort of a trip-wire system. MDP worked close enough to harvest times to have some impact. The USDA program operated from 2001 to 2012.

But the growers hated it and used their political muscle to kill it. They said fresh produce was consumed before MDP lab testing was completed. Sound familiar?

What they really feared was MDP testing finding pathogen contamination just as the product was hitting the market, and that did happen. They figured the best way to suppress those tests was to kill MDP entirely and that’s what they did.

It seems that an industry that relies on sunshine and daylight to grow its crops sure likes sneaking around in the dark.

Six weeks of our running the warning notices won’t change anything, but it will let a few more people know this is happening.

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