Friday, January 26, 2007

Our old friend, E.coli

Yet another E. coli outbreak has been traced back to to leafy greens (most likely iceberg lettuce) from California. Once again, they aren't sure what the ultimate source of the outbreak was.

California now has competing food safety plans--a legislator has introduced a bill that would require field-to-table tracking, buffer zones around fields, and stiff penalties for violators. Meanwhile, the produce growers association has introduced a voluntary plan that includes fencing animals out of crop fields, testing irrigation water, and limits on the use of manure as a fertilizer.

Neither of these plans is ideal, but both have good elements. Tracking is nice, but it doesn't help until a problem is detected. It does make it easier to get potentially contaminated food out of the supply chain, but that won't kick in until enough people have gotten sick for the government to be sure what the problem was. Limiting manure and testing irrigation water are a better approach--they keep the nasties out of the field in the first place, and they allow for corrective action to be taken before anyone gets sick. There are further steps that could be taken during processing to limit bacterial growth and spread, but those must be consistently followed. The biggest problem with the voluntary plan is that it is voluntary, so the low-grade operations will simply not sign on, and continue producing second-rate products. Both those plans are still in the developmental stage, but may be in effect this spring for the growing season.

Until then (or maybe even after, depending on what's adopted) the only way to be 100% safe when eating leafy greens and the like is to cook them hard, so that the beasties are killed by the heat.

No comments: