Government and private organizations have long been encouraging us to eat healthier diets. We have seen food pyramid charts for decades and the “5 a day” campaign has boosted our consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables.
There are pitfalls that have accompanied this emphasis on fresh food, particularly as mass marketing and convenient packaging have entered into the fray. E. coli outbreaks have become all too common with highly visible occurrences such as the recent temporary closures of Chipotle outlets in the Pacific Northwest.
Fresh-picked produce right off the farm is generally safe and wholesome. But the more hands it passes through from farm to packing plant to cellophane packaging and finally, to supermarket shelves, the more chances there are for something to go wrong.
The Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011 addresses many aspects of the problem, but its enforcement has faced much political opposition. The FDA has finally started to take more aggressive action to prevent the spread of foodborne illnesses.
There are new rules that third-party auditors must follow when conducting food safety inspections of facilities outside of the U.S. Growers and food processors have more clarity on what is needed to guarantee the safety of fresh produce, from employee hygiene to water quality. Other new rules specify how close domesticated and wild animals can come in contact with produce grown on farms.
Most of these things seem like common sense but whether the new rules are really enforced depends on the 2016 federal budget. Will food safety win out over lobbyists in an election year? We shall see.
Photo, posted May 17, 2008, courtesy of Mercedes via Flickr.
Earth Wise is a production of WAMC Northeast Public Radio.