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Peculiarities About The E. coli Outbreak

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, September 20, 2006

There are certain odd things about what the FDA is saying happened that really don’t make sense.

  1. How is it possible for so many brands to be implicated? Even if they come from the same packing plant, it doesn’t make sense. These items are batch processed. If Natural Selection Foods is packing for Dole, it packs for Dole for many hours. It doesn’t pack in bits and pieces for each brand.

    Since so many brands are implicated, it would have had to have been packed over many different packing days. But an E. coli problem is typically in a small batch. It doesn’t make sense.
  2. Nobody has discussed the possibility of the packaging material being implicated. But this may be a hole in the food safety and food security defense. Packers don’t sanitize the bags they receive. Could that be the source of a problem?
  3. Why wasn’t the E. coli washed off in processing? The FDA has made vague statements that in laboratory conditions, they have found that a plant can absorb E. coli internally through the roots. But I can’t find any peer-reviewed research attesting to this even in a laboratory, certainly not in field activity.
  4. Below I link to an article regarding a lawsuit, and I’ll link to it again here. This lawsuit is against Fresh Express and Chiquita and claims that a person got sick with the same E. coli strain as is implicated in this outbreak. If this lawsuit is based on fact, then why hasn’t Fresh Express been implicated? What is the criteria FDA uses to decide when to implicate a company and when not to?
  5. FDA has not called for a mandatory recall. So everything is voluntary. Natural Selection Foods deserves kudos for stepping up to the plate early and voluntarily recalling its product from the market, even though there is no bacteriological evidence to tie it to the outbreak. Should other companies have done the same? If they had taken the voluntary recall step right away, would that have moved the FDA to not recommend against consumption thus, effectively, closing the market?
  6. This is not the first time an outbreak has been identified — but why it is being treated very differently than is typical? Typically, a manufacturer gets a call from some agency, and the agency says there is an outbreak. The processor then asks what the agency would like them to do. The agency typically asks for the data related to trace-back and, since the expiration date is past, there is nothing to be done. Once in a while, you have a voluntary recall and that is the end of it.
  7. Is it possible that the FDA has gotten itself in a position it can’t get out of easily? Having announced this crisis, it now needs to reassure Americans that everything is 100% safe, but it can never be sure of that. So it can never act. Bryan Silbermann, President of PMA, reported from Salinas that in a meeting he attended with industry, government and academic experts, the governmental agencies…

    “…suggested that industry propose a plan for assuring public safety and, until that is ready, the current health advisory would remain in place. FDA encouraged industry to review the actions taken by other food sectors in responding to similar situations. These included meat, eggs, and other produce items impacted by previous outbreaks.

    I read that as saying that the industry needs to announce a new food safety plan. I wonder if the real purpose here isn’t just to give the FDA cover.
  8. Why didn’t the FDA order a mandatory recall if the risk is so great? A mandatory recall would have triggered a wide variety of insurance policies. But the fact that the FDA just closed down the spinach market by recommending people not eat spinach is unheard of. And left many companies unable to collect from their insurance companies.
  9. Reports from Salinas are that the FDA inspectors are concentrating on the biggest, corporate-owned farms. Don’t they know this is a classic mistake? Who are the outside growers that the big processors bought from? Is their data complete? The firms give representations and warranties to keep all their data, but they sometimes don’t. Why isn’t the FDA looking there?
  10. Is it really 100% certain that no outside influence was involved? Many people still doubt the government’s assertions that the anthrax attacks were not terrorism. The distribution patterns and the multiple brands are very unlike a normal food safety outbreak.

     

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