A post on Nov 17, 09, "Want Safe Meat? Make USDA Do It's Job!" caught our attention right away.
It just amazes us that people in the food industry can get away with selling food that is not 100% safe. Shouldn't providing food to customers be about quality and service? Don't food companies want good reviews on their products?
The New York Times reports that the company selling contaminated ground beef responsible for killing two people and making 500 others sick, “stopped testing its ingredients years ago under pressure from beef suppliers.”
Recall that since 1994, the USDA bans E. coli 0157:H7 in ground meat. It encourages, but does not require, meat companies to test for the pathogen. Why don’t they test? Because they don’t have to.
If they did test, they might find toxic E. coli and have to cook or destroy the meat. As the Times reported in depth last month, Testing puts meat companies in “a regulatory situation.” As one food safety officer put it, slaughterhouses do not want his packing company to test for pathogens: “one, I have to tell the government, and two, the government will trace it back to them. So we don’t do that.”
Instead of requiring safety testing, the USDA uses a “restrained approach.” As Dr. Kenneth Petersen, an assistant administrator with the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, told the Times, USDA has the power to require testing but doesn’t use it because it has to take the companies’ needs into consideration: “I have to look at the entire industry, not just what is best for public health.”
The moral? Meat companies will only produce meat safely if forced to. As we saw yesterday, oyster companies will only produce safe oysters if they have to. That’s why we need a food safety system in which all foods have to be produced safely. What will it take to get Congress to act?
In college, we learned a lot about the food industry and food swafety. Much of our food supply is produced and handled in a way that safety and health are jeopardized. There have been enough food-borne illness outbreaks in the US to arouse people's awareness and concern about contamination. It doesn't even seem like the USDA's seal of approval affirms safety. Our food policy and food safety regulation should be stronger to protect the consumer and society.
There are so many flaws in the meat industry! If one cow is contaminated with bacteria, than the risks of spreading contamination are extremely high, since many cows are processed together to make meat. One meat product sold in stores will probably contain the flesh of more than 100 cows! The high-speed production and the conditions in the packing plant have a direct effect on safety – if not handled properly, contamination can occur. As produce and meat are transported and handled by many, there is greater risk for cross-contamination into the fresh produce. There are regulations in producing meat, but there is still so much needed in order to ensure safety, such as the lack of recall authority that the USDA has over the meat corporation. Also, preparing fast food in restaurants pose many sanitation concern. Multiple workers prepare the meal, and the speed required to make a fast meal may hinder workers from following food safety principles.
Overall, the production and distribution of our food poses safety hazards that add to the health and political expenses of our food. It is great to be vegan, because we are not supporting meat production and the killing of innocent animals. We hope that more people can recognize the need for food safety, and even if they do consume meat, they can be responsible consumers and influence meat production practices. It's always best to purchase from companies with high standards, such as organic, fair trade, and ethical practices.
Marion Nestle (co-author Malden Nesheim) has a new book coming out in May, titled Feed Your Pet Right. Also looks very informative, for those animal lovers!