We received nearly 350 calls and emails today from people sickened by the above product. We are filing suit against Con Agra in the morning.
In my spare time I penned the following Op-ed with my friend Paul Nunes:
Produce processors need to clean up their act
By PAUL V. NUNES and WILLIAM MARLER
In 1906, Upton Sinclair penned his great American novel “The Jungle” about the corrupt meat packing industry. Dead rats were ground into sausage while bribed inspectors looked the other way.
One hundred years later, the American Meat Institute can boast that since 1999, the incidence of E. coli O157:H7 in ground beef samples tested by the Agriculture Department has declined by 80 percent to a fraction of a percent. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that E. coli outbreaks linked to tainted meat have declined by 42 percent.
How did this change happen? The Food Safety and Inspection Service in the mid-1990s – when undercooked hamburgers from Jack in the Box sickened 650 and killed four children – announced to the institute, “We consider raw ground beef that is contaminated with E. coli . . . to be adulterated.”
The Inspection Service mandated that meat processors adopt precautions such as carcass washes, citric acid sprays, steam pasteurization and air-
exchange systems. The U.S. meat industry now staffs in-house microbiologists or contracts with outside labs to test for contaminants.
Today, the apparent greater risk to the public is not meat, but produce. As many as 150 people across the Northeast and upper Midwest became ill after eating contaminated lettuce at fast-food restaurants. Many landed in hospitals.
A few months ago, 200 people got sick and at least four died from eating contaminated spinach. Three similar outbreaks occurred since 2002.
The Food and Drug Administration reported 21 E. coli outbreaks related to fresh leafy produce in the last 10 years with nearly 1,000 sickened. Many victims of the Taco Bell E. coli outbreak were residents of upstate New York.
To prevent future outbreaks, we need to follow the example of the Inspection Service and Meat Institute, and serve notice to produce processors that E. coli will no longer be tolerated in fresh produce.
Moreover, Congress should conduct hearings to consider:
Production of an E. coli vaccine for cattle.
Irradiation for all mass-produced foods, including produce.
Updating our food safety regulations (given post 9/11 risks).
State and/or federal authority to order product recalls.
Establishment of a single federal agency responsible for all food safety.
Clarification of state agencies’ role in the network of defense against food-borne illnesses.
Better funding for state health departments.
Better treatment for victims of E. coli.
Taking these steps will help prevent people from being sickened by eating what is supposed to be good for them.