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Obsession With Food Safety Distorts Public Policy Priorities

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, May 13, 2013

Trevor Suslow, PhD., Extension Research Specialist, Postharvest Quality and Safety at UC Davis, has been a frequent Pundit Contributor, with pieces such as these:

Trevor Suslow Of UC Davis Speaks Out: The Truth About Consumer Reports, Bacteria And Packaged Leafy Greens

Salmonella And Tomatoes Linked In New Mexico

Consumer Guide To Cantaloupe Food Safety

Pundit Special Science Report: Part 1 — Food Safety Vulnerabilities In Yuma And Salinas

Pundit Special Science Report: Part 2 — The Science Of Waterborne Bacteria

Salinas Flooding Brings Out The Consequences Of The California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement

Understanding GAPs

Pundit’s Mailbag — Cantaloupe Leaders Provide Roadmap To Safer Future

CANTALOUPE CRISIS ANALYSIS: While “Blame The Auditor” Frenzy Rages, It Pays To Look At Best Practices Vs Standard Practices

So when he asked if we would give a talk for the University & Industry Consortium, a group of top level academics and food industry executives that tries to bridge the gap between industry and academia, we were thrilled to have the opportunity.

Our presentation, presented at the University of Florida at Gainesville, focused on the role retailers play in promoting and hindering food safety and suggested various policy responses, such as those we suggested in our piece for The New Atlantis, titled How To Improve Food Safety.

We also did a panel with Dr. Suslow, Bob Brackett, Vice President and Director at National Center for Food Safety and Technology and Professor Michele Danyluk, an expert on the food safety and microbiology of nuts at the University of Florida.

When Q & A time came, there were many questions. One person asked what advice we would give consumers.

Our answer was that unless one is immune-compromised, very young, very old, has AIDS, just had chemotherapy, etc., one shouldn’t worry about the issue.

Basically the risk is so infinitesimal for a normal, healthy person that smoking three cigarettes while you worry about the issue or driving to your therapist to discuss the matter exposes one to more risk than just eating what one wishes.

This obsession with food safety risk is damaging to the country because it diverts attention and resources from serious problems.

The New York Times magazine recently ran a piece titled Raiding Grandma’s Medicine Cabinet:

Last month, the chief medical officer of Britain called antibiotic resistance a “ticking time bomb” and a threat as dangerous as global warming. In Europe alone, 25,000 people die every year from antibiotic-resistant bacteria — and that’s only counting the infections that were picked up in supposedly sterile hospitals.

The article is about the utilization of “pre-antibiotic medicine” to deal with antibiotic resistance, but the key point is that in Europe, 25,000 people die each year from anti-biotic resistant bacteria. The World Health Organization says that for tuberculosis alone, multi-drug resistance accounts for more than 150,000 deaths each year.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that in the US, there are 14,000 deaths a year due to C. difficile and 19,000 for MRSA.

On what basis do we allocate funds to improve the safety of tree fruit?

It is easy to say that more safety is always better — but it is not true. Money has to be allocated to get a return or else the more we spend the poorer we will be.

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