The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of US Food Safety

photograph of a pistachio

photograph of a pistachioGerms are everywhere. Keeping the dangerous ones out of our stomachs is the explicit job of manufacturer food safety testing programs. With the abundance of technology available for testing and treatment, why are we faced with multi-state outbreaks of Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria? For example, there have been four recalls of pistachios in the first ten weeks of 2016 and the trouble isn’t over for America’s favorite green nut: Eleven people in 9 states have been sickened by Salmonella-infected pistachios.

The Good: Catching Problems Before They Spread

Some big players in the food and beverage industry are doing it right. Consider Starbucks and their sandwich supplier Progressive Gourmet: Routine testing at Progressive Gourmet found Listeria on a food prep counter. The manufacturer promptly recalled breakfast sandwiches prepared in that facility from 250 Starbucks’ locations in Arkansas, Texas, and Oklahoma. Quick detection, fast and thorough response. No one to date has been sickened with listeriosis by these sandwiches.

The Bad: Ignore Pasteurization At Your Own Risk

Legislators in West Virginia have not been so lucky. A state ban was recently lifted on the sale and consumption of raw milk, but several lawmakers fell ill after drinking raw milk in celebration. They claim it was a stomach bug — and a coincidence — but the state Department of Health and Human Services is investigating.

The Ugly: Food Safety Trust, Once Lost, Is Hard to Earn Back

The kingdom of fresh mex is far from settled. Chipotle continues to struggle with soft sales, consumer trust issues, and an abundance of critical scrutiny by the press. In response, they’ve sent out coupons for free burritos in select areas to draw customers back to their restaurants. And when several workers in Boston fell ill with Norovirus (again) in early March 2016, the location was closed temporarily and sanitized. On the other hand, the Wall Street Journal reports a softening of Chipotle’s new, stringent food safety measures. It’s as though we’re drifting back toward the food safety attitudes of the early 1900s.

Does all this mean it’s time for people to throw in the towel and grow their own food? The reality is that foodborne pathogens can still get you, even on home-grown produce. Regular food safety testing will keep the US food manufacturing industry running strong for another century. Equipping and running a good, clean quality control department can be tricky. We’re always happy to help labs spec their equipment and establish good sterilization practices.

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