Personal Injury

Salmonella: the bacteria that changed Washington?

Neither the U.S. Food and Drug Administration nor state health agencies require food manufacturers to test the safety of their products before they enter the market. Inspectors periodically visit the factories where food is processed to make sure their operations are up to code, but as we have seen in the recent past, even those rules can be insufficient and lax.

Obviously, large food manufacturers have a reputation to uphold, so it’s not surprising that many of them perform optional, randomized testing of their products. Kraft performed such tests on its Back to Nature trail mix, which is how it discovered that pistachios from Setton International Foods, a California-based pistachio manufacturer, were contaminated with salmonella bacteria.

Still, many companies avoid testing their products before market, while others that perform tests may ignore the results – all of which underscores the need for a more effective food safety inspection system and better regulations.

“We’re relying on companies to find the contaminated foods on their own, and since there’s no national standards for this, some companies don’t bother to test at all,” said Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., in an Associated Press report. “What if these nuts had been distributed by a company that doesn’t test? We wouldn’t have found out until people got sick.”

Another critic of the country’s food regulation system, Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn, said that Americans should be safe to assume that the food they serve to their families is okay to eat. “Unfortunately – from peanuts to ground beef to peppers to imported seafood – and just yesterday, pistachios – we have seen one devastating case of widespread food borne illness after the next,” she said in a statement before Congress.

DeLauro, like a growing number of Americans, voices her concern about the duplicitous nature of government agencies such as the FDA and USDA.

“I have long been concerned about USDA’s dual mission of promoting the products it is supposed to regulate. I believe this inherent conflict of interest at the agency has contributed to some of the food safety problems we have encountered over the years,” she said.

DeLauro added that the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) must be modernized “in a way that emphasizes prevention not just reaction, and recognizes that as long as the threats from food borne pathogens are constantly evolving, so too must the food safety system.”

However, the idea of reforming the nation’s food inspection system — requiring mandatory testing by food companies in particular — is meeting resistance by some lobbyists who believe testing would hinder business interests.

Robert Brackett of the Grocery Manufacturers Association told the AP that “You don’t want to do testing just for the sake of doing testing. That tends to be this one-size-fits all situation where it may work really well for some products and not for others. What we really focus on is for companies to build the safety into their programs in the first place.”