“Cause of death: Eating a cantaloupe.” Do you want to have that placed in your obituary?
This summer, 29 people died after eating cantaloupe grown from Jensen’s Farm in Rocky Ford, Colorado. Federal investigators determined that the cantaloupes grown and packed at Jensen Farm were contaminated with Listeria.
Later in the investigation officials disclosed that just prior to the outbreak, the farm and packing operation had been audited by a third party auditor and were given a very high rating, no problems found. Tell that to the families of the victims.
To bring this into perspective, there were no deaths of US servicemen in Iraq during the month of Aug 2011 when the outbreak in Colorado first broke. It was more dangerous to eat a melon than to be a US marine in Iraq in the summer of 2011.
Consider this: you are less likely to get sick from any hot dog stand anywhere in the country. The meat that is served has been packed and inspected by a FDA inspector on not just a once a year basis, but on a continuing inspection cycle.
Your local vegetable farmer, on the other hand, has no local, state or federal inspector checking on his operation. He is free to use whatever practices he chooses as long as his commercial pesticide is registered by the US EPA and the individual state authorities. However, no one is actually inspecting what they do.
The organic establishment is not any better, because the majority of organic growers never met organisms that they didn’t like. Many growers practice using “teas” of composted waste. This can be an effective practice when done correctly but can go wrong when done poorly.
So the road stand can be more deadly than the local hot dog vendor. Our recent Food Safety Act has exempted most small farms but they can as easily pose a real danger as any large farm.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m a card-carrying advocate of small government and have a severe distrust of any government official that says they are going to help. I do know that this problem is an industry-wide issue that will involve the coordinated effort by the growers, packers, brokers, transporters and most importantly the retailers.
The American public has indicated that they are willing to pay more for food safety. Our food retailers are going to have to accept some of the responsibility and not try to squeeze the farmers and brokers by putting the risk on them. This will be a shared expense that includes service providers, such as BioSafe Systems, who provide chemical agents and equipment. This is something that we will all have a responsibility to make right.