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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Where is the balance between food safety, consumer convenience, industrialized agriculture and the environment?

I had a long talk with Carolyn Lochhead, San Francisco Chronicle Washington Bureau Reporter about her article, “Crops, ponds destroyed in quest for food safety” that appeared this morning. It is a good opening discussion of the balance that we somehow have to forge between food safety, consumer convenience, industrialized agriculture and the environment.  The discussion reminds me a bit of a post I did nearly four years ago – "Bagged "Pre-Washed" Lettuce: Is Convenience Worth the Risk?"  Much to discuss. Here is part of the article:

Seattle trial lawyer Bill Marler, who represented many of the plaintiffs in the 2006 E. coli outbreak in spinach, said, "If we want to have bagged spinach and lettuce available 24/7, 12 months of the year, it comes with costs."

Still, he said, the industry rules won’t stop lawsuits or eliminate the risk of processed greens cut in fields, mingled in large baths, put in bags that must be chilled from packing plant to kitchen, and shipped thousands of miles away.

"In 16 years of handling nearly every major food-borne illness outbreak in America, I can tell you I’ve never had a case where it’s been linked to a farmers’ market," Marler said.

"Could it happen? Absolutely. But the big problem has been the mass-produced product. What you’re seeing is this rub between trying to make it as clean as possible so they don’t poison anybody, but still not wanting to come to the reality that it may be the industrialized process that’s making it all so risky."

Ms. Lochhead added in a few of the major outbreaks (all of which I am squarely in the middle of). I added in one she missed, corrected a date and added a bit – all in bold.

June 2009: E. coli O157:H7 linked to JBS Swift meat sickening 23 in nine state, two with acute kidney failure. FISS instituted a recall of 420,000 pounds of meat.

June 2009: E. coli O157:H7 found in Nestle Toll House refrigerated cookie dough manufactured in Danville, Va., resulted in the recall of 3.6 million packages. Seventy-two people in 30 states (now seventy-four in 32 states) were sickened. No traces found on equipment or workers; investigators are looking at flour and other ingredients.

February 2009: Salmonella found in peanut butter from a Peanut Corp. of America plant in Georgia. Nine people died, and an estimated 22,500 were sickened. Criminal negligence was alleged after the product tested positive and was shipped.

June 2008: Salmonella Saint Paul traced to Serrano peppers grown in Mexico. More than 1,000 people were sickened in 41 states, with 203 reported hospitalizations and at least one death. Tomatoes were suspected, devastating growers.

April 2007: E. coli O157:H7 found in beef, sickening 14 people. United Food Group recalled 5.7 million pounds of meat (at least four suffered acute kidney failure).

December 2006: E. coli O157:H7 traced to Taco Bell restaurants in New Jersey and Long Island, N.Y. Green onions suspected, then lettuce. Thirty-nine people were sickened, some with acute kidney failure.

September 2006: E. coli O157:H7 found in Dole bagged spinach processed at Earthbound Farms in San Juan Bautista (San Benito County). The outbreak killed four people (actually five), sent 103 to hospitals, and devastated the spinach industry (devastated over 30 families with hemolytic uremic syndrome).

  • Bix

    This was a great article. (I think your link is broken, but I found it via Google.) Great comments there too.
    This is the discussion we need to have. Farmers markets are nice, but it’s not where most people get their food.