I assume that the fellow that left this comment on my post of yesterday “Why I work weekends” is a real person who is actually in charge of “the Food Safety programs of two grower/shippers of fruit and produce.”  I bet your buyers – consumers, restaurants or retailers, feel great about the vote of confidence in your product.

Setting aside for a moment how Chad may feel about lawyers, do you really think the appropriate response to someone who buys a salad at a place like Panera or buys a package of “triple-washed” chopped, bagged romaine at a grocery store, and becomes sick due to E. coli O157:H7 and develops HUS is, sorry, “shit happens?’

Sorry, that is not acceptable.  If you put a defective product – yes, E. coli O157:H7 is a defective product – into commerce and you harm someone, you are responsible.  To suggest otherwise, especially in these circumstances is legally and morally wrong.

It is the attitude of it’s “Nature’s fault” that leads to complacent finger-pointing at consumers.  Are consumers supposed to wash the lettuce they are served at a restaurant?  Do we really expect a busy homemaker (man or woman) to wash the washed chopped bagged salad they picked up at the grocery store?

Here is his comment in full, unedited:

chad gress

“I promised the distraught father that I would take care of his kid and find the grower, shipper, processor and retailer (honestly, I know most of the chain already and the rest will flip shortly – perhaps I should offer a reward?) that did this to his daughter.“

NATURE did this to his daughter. Was it facilitated by a breakdown in safe growing, harvesting and/or processing practices by one or more companies in the chain of custody? Perhaps. But that is yet to be determined.

I am responsible for the Food Safety programs of two grower/shippers of fruit and produce. I hate hearing about people suffering because they made a healthy choice to eat fresh produce. And being a father, I sympathize with anyone who’s child becomes sick or dies as a result of exposure to a food-borne pathogen. But I am all too aware that, despite our best efforts to protect the consumer by proactively reducing the potential for cross contamination during the growing and harvesting stages, it is not possible to eliminate the potential for contamination. Without a kill step, fruits and vegetables have always and will always be susceptible to contamination.

To tell a father that you are going to find out who “did this to his daughter” without knowing all the facts is irresponsible and misleading. I support taking legal action against companies who demonstrate negligence in thier duties towards the health and safety of the public. It seems the only way to effect change is to go after their wallets. But for so many of us in the produce industry doing our reasonable best to grow and ship a product that is safe for human consumption, being portrayed as “villians” in these scenarios is just ethically wrong.

Produce is grown outdoors, in nature, exposed to countless sources of contamination, the most dangerous of which are microorganisms that are invisible to the human eye, extremely adaptable and likely more resilient than we currently understand them to be. We are constantly performing risk assessments to identify potential weak points in our Food Safety Programs, and modifying our procedures so they reflect the most current science-based metrics. We are conscientious and diligent. And yet, we will never be able to eliminate the risk of our produce being a source of food-borne illness.

And so we will continue to be the targets of litigation, and attorneys will continue to use the type of language that you did with thier clients and the public, encouraging them to file lawsuits against everyone who touched the product. Eveyone who “did this to thier daughter”.

If you can not make mass produced produce safely – don’t sell it.  If you sell it and sicken some 11 year old girl whose only crime was to order a salad at Panera, then step up and be responsible for what happened to her.

And Chad, since I posted “Why I work weekends” – I have been retained by the family of a 16-year-old girl with HUS who just was released from ICU and the mother of a 6-year-old boy who was just hospitalized in the last few days and has early stages of HUS.  Would you like to tell them, that is just nature’s way?