The Washington Post’s reporters, Kimberly Kindy and Brady Dennis jumped into FSIS’s “what’s an adulterant” thicket with their story posted yesterday “Salmonella outbreaks expose weakness in USDA oversight.” The article is worth the read.
Regarding FSIS allowing the meat industry – chicken, beef, etc., to ship us all food tainted with Salmonella, what happened to my client and reported by the post says it all:
The Agriculture Department inspector showed up at Rick Schiller’s home in November to collect potential evidence from his freezer: three pounds of chicken thighs, wrapped in plastic and stamped with a Foster Farms label.
Schiller, a 51-year-old California advertising executive, had recently returned from a five-day stay in the hospital prompted by severe vomiting, diarrhea and an infection that left his joints throbbing and his right leg purple and twice its normal size.
“I’ve been around the block. I’ve had some painful things,” he said. “But nothing like this.”
He takes drops for his right eye, which is constantly congested, red and itchy. On cold nights, he carries firewood in his left arm because his right still feels weak.
“I don’t know what the long-term prognosis is going to be,” he said. “I’m just thankful that I’m alive.”
Mr. Schiller was part of one of two 2013 Foster Farm chicken Salmonella outbreaks that sickened over 500, putting 40% of those in the hospital. And, guess what? No recalls because Salmonella is not considered an adulterant despite what it does to Foster Farm’s customers. But, what if FSIS and the industry considered Salmonella an adulterate – like common sense tells most of us? As the post reports, there is a history of success with calling pathogens what they are:
The agency declared a zero-tolerance policy for the strain in many beef products after hundreds of Americans fell ill and four children died in 1993 after eating tainted hamburger meat from fast-food chain Jack in the Box.
As researchers eventually identified other types of E. coli that were particularly virulent and resistant to antibiotics, those likewise got labeled “adulterants” by the USDA, meaning the agency considers them dangerous substances that should be banned from commerce. A ban gives the USDA legal authority to order recalls, something it does not have with Salmonella.
The result: Over time, deaths and infections from E. coli have decreased significantly.
“It worked,” said Seattle lawyer Bill Marler, who specializes in food poisoning cases and is representing Schiller. “Ninety-five percent of my cases used to be E. coli. Today it is nearly zero. The industry will kick and scream, but they can fix it.”