Nobody inside the industry expects mainstream media to understand the nuances of inspection protocols, the regulatory details governing labeling requirements or even the reality that with the vast majority of the Food Safety and Inspection Service budget devoted to personnel costs, a budget cut—or a sequester—virtually forces agency leadership to impose furloughs.
Although that last piece of reality ought to be common knowledge by now.
That said, there’s no excuse for displaying ignorance of both microbiology and manufacturing, as was showcased by the editorial writers at the Portland (Maine) Press Herald. The lead editorial appearing on the Ides of March was entitled, “Feds should move faster on meat safety rules.”
Here’s how it began:
“Don’t be shocked that more than a year has passed since 20 people became seriously ill from eating beef ground at Hannaford [grocery] stores, and the federal government still hasn’t established rules to prevent the same thing from happening (sic) again.
“USDA has known about the problem for 15 years, so a year more or less probably doesn’t seem like a big deal. Well, it is a big deal, and people who depend on the federal agency to protect the food system deserve a quicker response when a weakness is exposed.”
The editorial goes on to recap an incident in 2011 in which salmonella found in ground beef sickened about 20 people in Maine and six other states. “What happened in 2011 could happen anywhere, and the results could be much worse next time,” the editorial stated.
The problem, according to both the newspaper’s editorial writer and Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), who questioned USDA Undersecretary for Food Safety Elisabeth Hagen during House hearings last week, is that investigators could track the source of the pathogen to Hannaford supermarkets, but because the beef trimmings came from multiple sources, there was no way to determine exactly where the contaminated meat originated.
What comes next? You’ve heard it before: The predictable rant against huge, “mega-firms” dominating the industry that cause exponentially bigger food-safety problems.
“The way the food system has been centralized, a few mega farms and processing plants send products all over the country,” the Press Herald editorial stated. “An outbreak of a deadly bacteria (sic) could be spread to a multitude of stores and restaurants with no way to track it back to the source until more people fall sick.”