Posted on: Monday, 15 September 2008, 09:05 CDT
Source of Article:† http://www.redorbit.com/news/science/1555661/additional_food_safety_measures_needed_for_imported_produce/
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
suspects a packing plant in northern
The packing plant sits at the end of a dirt road,
where the conveyer belts that process hundreds of tons of vegetables each year
for Mexican and
An Associated Press report said the plantís manager
confirmed that workers handling chili peppers are not required to separate the
vegetables according to the sanitary conditions in which they were grown.
This might explain how such a large outbreak was caused by such a rare strain
of salmonella. The AP probe discovered that while some Mexican producers
operate under stringent sanitary conditions, many others do not, but export
their produce to the
Neither the Mexican or
However, there is no public record of those chains that mandate these sanitary practices, therefore there is no way to know whether the produce in a particular store is certified.
The top Mexican farmers grow crops in fenced-off fields, using fresh water irrigation and packing their produce in spotless plants with workers dressed in protective gear. However, plenty of farms remain where unfenced fields allow animals to roam freely and which use untreated water, sometimes laced with sewage.
Salmonella can exist on the skin of produce, or can penetrate the inside of fruits and vegetables. And while cooking will kill the bacteria, washing raw produce doesn't always eliminate it. For this reason, safety experts emphasize the importance of preventing such contamination in the first place.
Agricola Zaragoza is one of
The FDA suspects Serrano chilies and Mexican jalapeno processed at Agricola Zaragoza are responsible for the latest outbreak, but it also believes tomatoes may have been involved. It admits the true source may never be conclusively confirmed.
Cesar Fragoso, president
In addition, significant amounts of produce pass from distributor to distributor on its way to a final destination, something that increases the potential for contamination. These multi-step transit routes also make tracing outbreaks much more difficult. In fact, just 10 percent of outbreaks are ever completely resolved, said former FDA official William Hubbard.
"It is very common for distributors to receive products from numerous sources, numerous farms and in some cases multiple countries," Hubbard told the AP.
"That's just the way produce moves."
In the latest salmonella case, the
Though typically not as
large-scale, salmonella and other outbreaks are fairly common, with more than
3,000 occurring between 1990 and 2006 from foods regulated by the FDA,
according to data from the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
These figures include fruits, vegetables and seafood, and contamination within
Among the cases is a 2004 hepatitis outbreak,
linked to Mexican-grown green onions, that resulted in the deaths of four
people and that sickened 650 in
The Senate is looking at a bill that would require
the FDA to set regulations for guaranteeing safer fresh produce. In
U.S. Produce Marketing Associations vice president
Kathy Means told the AP that food safety falls to the food industry, with a
majority of major produce buyers requiring both
"It's not government-regulated, so it's up to the company to require it.Ē
Alfonso Alvarez's fenced-off 15-acre farm in Jalisco state contains tomatoes that are grown in greenhouses and irrigated with deep well water. Workers wear protective hair nets, aprons and gloves, and signs can be seen throughout the facility reminding workers to wash their hands after going to the restroom.
Alvarez sells its crop to a Canadian company, which
then imports to the
"Those of us who want to enter the
"Those who grow in open fields will ruin it for those who produce in greenhouses," he said, "and that's not fair."
He and other Mexican farmers with sanitary farms
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