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Salmonella On Veggie Booty Spurs Troubling Response From CDC

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, July 10, 2007

For many parents, including the Pundit, word of the E. coli outbreak last fall on bagged spinach didn’t ring too many personal alarms. After all, kids — at least ours — rarely touch the stuff.

But word that Salmonella had been found on Veggie Booty, a snack food popular with children, struck horror in the heart. The Jr. Pundits live on the stuff. Robert’s American Gourmet Food, based in Sea Cliff, New York, issued a recall of both Veggie Booty and Super Veggie Tings Crunchy Corn Sticks.

We were all fine in the Pundit household but others were not so fortunate. And the whole outbreak raised several troubling questions. The CDC for example, published this Q & A related to the Veggie Booty outbreak:

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS RELATED TO THE OUTBREAK
OF SALMONELLA INFECTIONS FROM VEGGIE BOOTY

I have a bag of Robert’s American Gourmet Veggie Booty &/or Super Veggie Tings and I/my children ate some of it, but no one is sick. What should I do?

Do not eat any more of the Veggie Booty or Super Veggie Tings. Throw away the bag(s). If anyone in your family develops diarrheal illness with bloody diarrhea, fever, or symptoms lasting more than three days, he or she should consult a healthcare provider.

I/my household member ate Robert’s American Gourmet Veggie Booty &/or Super Veggie Tings and I/my household member is ill with diarrhea. I still have the bag. What should I do?

Do not eat any more of the Veggie Booty or Super Veggie Tings. If the diarrheal illness is severe, with bloody diarrhea, fever, or symptoms lasting more than three days, you should consult a healthcare provider. Salmonella infection is diagnosed by culture of a stool specimen. Call your local health department as well, as they may wish to investigate your case further.

What about Robert’s American Gourmet Super Veggie Tings Crunch Corn Sticks?

Robert’s American Gourmet Food, Inc expanded its product recall on July 2, 2007 to include all lots and sizes of Super Veggie Tings Crunchy Corn Sticks due to the company’s concern that Veggie Booty and Super Veggie Tings share ingredients that could be contaminated. Persons should discard any bags of either product in their possession.

Has Super Veggie Tings Crunchy Corn Sticks been associated with illness?

CDC is not aware of any human illness associated with Super Veggie Tings Crunchy Corn Sticks. The voluntary recall by the company was a precautionary measure.

I/my household member ate another snack product from the Robert’s American Gourmet brand that is not Veggie Booty or Super Veggie Tings, and I/my household member is ill with diarrhea. I still have the bag. What should I do?

There is no evidence that this illness has been caused by the snack food you are describing. If the illness is severe, with bloody diarrhea, fever, or symptoms lasting more than three days, you should consult a healthcare provider.

I/my household member ate a snack food that is not the Robert’s American Gourmet brand, and I/my household member is ill with diarrhea. I still have the bag. What should I do?

There is no evidence that your illness has been caused by the snack food you are describing. If the illness is severe, with bloody diarrhea, fever, or symptoms lasting more than three days, you should consult a healthcare provider.

It is a helpful enough guide for consumers. Yet in reading the FAQ we were struck by several things:

  1. Three of the questions contained the words, "I still have the bag." The point was mostly ignored in the answers. Why are people not being instructed to save the bags, advised how to save them so as to best preserve them for testing and advised what types of tests they might want to have done on the bags?
  2. The one time CDC mentions the bag, it actually advises consumers to “throw away the bag,” which is shocking both from a traceability standpoint and from a legal liability standpoint.
  3. There is no mention of requesting that your physician perform any particular test on excrement to ascertain if it is part of this outbreak or not. Why isn’t this mentioned?
  4. There seems to be a recommendation to wait until the diarrhea is bloody, a fever, etc. If we knew our child had eaten a product that was implicated in a foodborne illness and the child suddenly got diarrhea, we would rush our child to a doctor for immediate testing and, at least, discuss prophylactic treatment prior to an actual diagnosis. This seems a recommendation focused on reducing health care expenditures, not a recommendation to parents concerned with the health of a toddler.
  5. There is no recommendation of asking one’s doctor to forward any positive test results to state health labs, the CDC, etc. We realize technically this may be a doctor’s responsibility, but more broadly informing the public couldn’t help but increase compliance.

Beyond the CDC’s questions, this food safety problem is very troubling.

First, it has been traced to seasoning imported from China. So this tells us that food manufacturers are not being extra vigilant about purchasing food from China.

Second, salmonella is a standard screen in both ingredient testing and finished product testing in food manufacturing facilities. How did this go by unnoticed?

The shocking thing is that the FDA closed down the entire spinach industry because it was uncertain about the safety of the product. Are they really so certain that all the processed food with ingredients from China is safer than the spinach was last year? Or is this a double standard?

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