Food products now come to the United States from over 250,000 foreign establishments in 200 countries. Indeed, 15 percent of fruits, 20 percent of vegetables, and 80 percent of seafood come from overseas. And, with the consumption of imported foods growing, we have seen an increase in recalls and foodborne illness outbreaks linked to them.
A few days ago two meat processing plants in the United States, Lancaster Frozen Foods and G&W Inc., recalled nearly 7,000 pounds of ground beef after South Carolina state inspectors found that meat they received from an Australian packing plant was contaminated with potentially deadly E. coli O157:H7 bacteria. Fortunately, there appear to be no illnesses linked to the meat – yet.
Then there is the ongoing Salmonella outbreak linked to tempeh made by a North Carolina company, Smiling Hara, which purchased Tempeh Starter Yeast from an online Maryland company, which has issued a recall. As of Thursday, 76 confirmed, 6 probable, and 6 suspected cases have been recorded in five states: 80 in North Carolina, 3 in Georgia, 3 in South Carolina, 1 in Tennessee, and 1 in Michigan. The recalled starter yeast, imported from Indonesia, was distributed by www.indonesianfoodmart.com nationwide and internationally through direct mail order, according to a May 22 company statement that was posted online by the FDA.
Last week, Caribe Produce LTD Co. recalled 286 cases of Papaya Maradol, Caribeña Brand papayas because they might be contaminated with Salmonella. Routine testing by the company revealed the presence of Salmonella in the papayas, according to the recall notice. The company says no illnesses have been reported. The recalled Papaya Maradol, Caribeña Brand cases were distributed in the Bronx, New York in wholesale stores and through retail stores from May 14 to May 17, 2012. The papayas were packed in 35 lb. cartons marked with the brand “Caribeña” and “Product of Mexico” stamped on the side. The papayas are sold individually, and each one bears a label that states “3112 CARIBEÑA Papaya MARADOL PRODUCT OF MEXICO www.grandeproduce.com.”
Last month the CDC reported that a total of 316 individuals infected with the outbreak strains of Salmonella Bareilly or Salmonella Nchanga had been reported from 26 states and the District of Columbia. The outbreak announcement was followed by Moon Marine USA Corporation (also known as MMI) of Cupertino, CA recalling 58,828 lbs. of a frozen raw yellowfin tuna product, labeled as Nakaochi Scrape AA or AAA. Nakaochi Scrape is tuna backmeat, which is specifically scraped from the bones, and looks like a ground product. Moon Fishery (India) Pvt. Ltd., the manufacturer of the Yellow Fin Tuna Nakaochi Scrape, also recalled its 22-pound cases of “Tuna Strips” Product of India AA or AAA GRADE because they had the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella.
But, do not think that it is just food that is imported to the United States that is a problem. Our exports have raised concerns abroad, too.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service (USDA ERS), the United States exported over $136 billion in agricultural products in 2011, which — compared to the 2001 value of $53 billion — represents a steady increase in exports. Nonetheless, the world has not been shy about denying American exports that demonstrate risk.
Spinach: In late 2006 an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak linked to Dole bagged spinach led to 205 illnesses, 103 hospitalizations, and 2 deaths. The outbreak spanned 49 states and Canada and took a huge economic toll on the spinach and leafy greens industry due to consumer uncertainty inside and outside U.S. borders. During the outbreak Mexico placed a ban on all California lettuce imports.
Peanut Butter: In 2007, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that there had been 628 confirmed cases of Salmonella infection in 41 states from August 2006 through May 2007. Although the outbreak slowed, cases continued to be confirmed after this time period. The cases were linked to the consumption of Peter Pan and Great Value brand peanut butter manufactured in ConAgra’s Georgia peanut butter plant. The product was recalled worldwide and countries like China banned the brands.
Mad Cow Disease: Since 2003, the United States has confirmed a total of 4 cases of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease) in cows, including an April 23, 2012 case linked to a California dairy cow. Over 65 countries have banned or limited U.S. beef sales in response to these events. Notably, Japan and South Korea, the first and third largest importers of U.S. beef in 2003, banned U.S. beef. Though Japan and South Korea had essentially lifted the bans by 2009, both countries continue to place restrictions on specific higher risk products. Following the 2012 case, Indonesia banned U.S. beef and some major Korean retailers halted the sale of U.S. beef. Since the initial mad cow case, the beef industry has taken a significant economic hit. In 2002 the U.S. exported 2.447 billion pounds of beef, but by 2004 the number of pounds exported had dropped to just 460 million. Only in 2011 did beef exports return to 2002 levels. And then we found another mad cow in 2012.
Food safety is “farm to fork” and around the world. We all – producers, shippers, importers, exporters, retailers and consumers – need to pay attention to the whole supply chain, even if it stretches around the globe. Ultimately food safety is both good for public health and good for business.