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View Full Version : Food Safety Measures - Will they ever be enough?



mugaliens
2009-Mar-14, 12:57 PM
Forget whatever whoever recently did whatever. That's politics.

This is science:

Produce:
Humans have been eating produce for 10,000 years. During that time, as documented in writings which are date back to more than 4,000 years ago, we've developed various ways of ensuring that produce is reasonably healthy, including waiting until the crop is ripe and not overripe, sorting, storing, washing, visual inspection, cutting, touch, smell, cooking, and taste. By one or more of those means, we've managed to flourish as a race.

In addition, other practices have arisen in the last couple of millennia which further reduce the liklihood of produce-born illness, including water and waste management practices. These practices continue to improve.

Over the last hundred years, controls have become tighter still, mainly in terms of an entire mountain of practices and inspection requirements for the 150,000 food processing plants and warehouses in the US, along with a food safety system that's the best the human race has ever managed!

Apparently, all of that isn't enough, as was recently proclaimed, "That is a hazard to publish health. It is unacceptable."

:confused:

The person who said that claimed the number of annual outbreaks have tripled, from 100 per year in the early 1990s, to 350 a year these days. I question whether it's the actual outbreaks which have tripled, or whether the reporting system has improved that much, particularly with nearly every doctor's office now having, thanks to the Internet and associated back-end databases, far better and much more rapid access to government reporting sites, along with better training, and a newer generation of doctors who've grown up with computers.

All of this indicates to me that it's much more likely that the reporting has increased by 350%, rather than a three-fold reduction in the safety practices used in our food industry.

Before we spend millions, if not billions, revamping the food industry, let's spend about 1/1000th of that ensuring that the real reason behind the increase actually has to do with a decline in the food industry, rather than a mere increase in the percentage of cases which are reported.

weatherc
2009-Mar-14, 02:27 PM
The person who said that claimed the number of annual outbreaks have tripled, from 100 per year in the early 1990s, to 350 a year these days. I question whether it's the actual outbreaks which have tripled, or whether the reporting system has improved that much, particularly with nearly every doctor's office now having, thanks to the Internet and associated back-end databases, far better and much more rapid access to government reporting sites, along with better training, and a newer generation of doctors who've grown up with computers.I wonder the same thing whenever I hear claims about any particular thing increasing at a great rate, as if society is falling apart.

It wasn't many years ago that you would eat something and get sick, and say, "That meal didn't sit well with me." Now, it gets diagnosed as a particular food borne illness and reported far more often.

korjik
2009-Mar-14, 06:54 PM
Define safe.

I think that is where the problem is. Safe 300 years ago may be inedible today, just because standards have risen so much.

I also wonder if we have started to assume that food is safe and we have lost some common sense things to make sure the food you wash actually is safe.

Gillianren
2009-Mar-14, 08:41 PM
I know a lot of things that we take for granted in cuisine are, in fact, methods to deal with food that is, shall we say, past its prime. There's a reason the French have all those sauces, for example. It's speculated that most heavy use of seasoning is to cover up unpleasant tastes from not-quite-good meats.

Oh--and define produce! Farming is some 9000 years old, depending on where you're looking, but of course, the food that passes on food-borne illnesses is primarily not vegetation. A lot of it is from spoiled meat--and, of course, some of it is from improperly-done preserving. Unless you're counting things like ergotism, which is not quite the same.

sarongsong
2009-Mar-14, 08:53 PM
Forget whatever whoever recently did whatever. That's politics...:rolleyes:

The actual article (http://www.nbcsandiego.com/health/topics/Obama-Food-Safety-System-is-Hazard-to-Public-Health.html):
...The FDA does not have enough money or workers to conduct annual inspections at more than a fraction of the 150,000 food processing plants and warehouses in the country, Obama said. "That is a hazard to public health. It is unacceptable..."...

Ronald Brak
2009-Mar-14, 09:19 PM
In Australia the health inspectors inspect every single food processing plant. We can't seem to get rid of them. I think the US might be spreading the margarine of inspection a little too thinly over the toast of potential bacterial contamination.

korjik
2009-Mar-15, 04:00 AM
I know a lot of things that we take for granted in cuisine are, in fact, methods to deal with food that is, shall we say, past its prime. There's a reason the French have all those sauces, for example. It's speculated that most heavy use of seasoning is to cover up unpleasant tastes from not-quite-good meats.

Oh--and define produce! Farming is some 9000 years old, depending on where you're looking, but of course, the food that passes on food-borne illnesses is primarily not vegetation. A lot of it is from spoiled meat--and, of course, some of it is from improperly-done preserving. Unless you're counting things like ergotism, which is not quite the same.

It seems like the source of contamination being vegetable is becoming more prevalent. The current problem is peanuts. Taco Bell had that lettuce (or was it tomatoes?)problem a couple years ago.

That is why I wonder if there is something that used to be taken for granted that we have lost. I dont remember any occurances of a vegetable bourne problem back in the 80s and early 90s, but they come up every now and then, now.

Gillianren
2009-Mar-15, 04:53 AM
It seems like the source of contamination being vegetable is becoming more prevalent. The current problem is peanuts. Taco Bell had that lettuce (or was it tomatoes?)problem a couple years ago.

That is why I wonder if there is something that used to be taken for granted that we have lost. I dont remember any occurances of a vegetable bourne problem back in the 80s and early 90s, but they come up every now and then, now.

I believe it's to do with cross-contamination, which is a huge problem in the kitchen as well. The speculation is that the irrigation water (gross but true, and it's a good reason to wash produce carefully!) was contaminated with pig feces from feral pigs. You also have to remember that most cases of food poisoning don't make the news. Even if people go to the hospital for them. Most cases of food poisoning are in the home and caused by poor kitchen hygeine. Be careful where you store the raw chicken, in other words.

JustAFriend
2009-Mar-15, 08:50 PM
You can spend all you want and test all you want... but all it takes is for ONE worker to come in sick and sneeze on one porkchop, or for one fieldworker to look around and relieve himself on one tomato to keep from having to go to the portapotty (if there is even one provided...)

You're never going to stop ALL contamination.

Ronald Brak
2009-Mar-16, 02:21 AM
It's important to look at the cost/benefit ratio. Will more food inspections prevent more death/illness than spending the money on flu vaccine or highway safety rails?

Gigabyte
2009-Mar-16, 02:58 AM
That isn't a good argument.

Ronald Brak
2009-Mar-16, 03:09 AM
I was responding to JustAFriend commenting that all contamination can't be stopped. While it's not feasible to stop all contamination, it is certainly possible to stop a lot, as evidenced by historical and cross country data. What level of contamination can be stopped does depend on the expense of stopping it and the opportunity cost.

NEOWatcher
2009-Mar-16, 02:05 PM
Apparently, all of that isn't enough, as was recently proclaimed, "That is a hazard to publish health. It is unacceptable."
I'm sure it's not the standards and procedures that are to blame. It's the enforcement that is at issue. Not enough inspectors to keep up with the increase in careless food operators. (or careless operators outnumbering the inspectors - however you want to look at it)


I question whether it's the actual outbreaks which have tripled, or whether the reporting system has improved that much...
And, general attitudes. I think that there may be a considerably larger number of people that would go screaming that something made them sick rather than saying they just are sick.

My sister had this happen to her. She ate at a restaurant that sickened hundreds of people. She spent the weekend in bed. Nowaday's most people would go straight to the doctor without seeing if it would pass as it did with her.

Since she didn't go to the doctor, she had no basis for a claim, and wasn't considered part of the statistic even though she still had the receipt and paid with a credit card. She could prove she at the bad food, but couldn't prove she got sick. In the past, I think more people would have fit this profile.

mike alexander
2009-Mar-16, 05:34 PM
It's only after WWII that produce became a nationally-shipped item. Then internationally. A limited number of big producing regions shipping continent-wide makes the possibility of widespread poisonings more likely, in my opinion.

And a bit like toxic securities, the produce from one bad field can be mixed in with plenty of perfectly fine material, but without knowing which bits are bad, the whole thing ends up quarantined.

Ivan Viehoff
2009-Mar-17, 10:01 AM
Since she didn't go to the doctor, she had no basis for a claim, and wasn't considered part of the statistic even though she still had the receipt and paid with a credit card. She could prove she at the bad food, but couldn't prove she got sick. In the past, I think more people would have fit this profile.
Interesting that. In this country, the health statistics people would believe you if you say you got sick. But that is because no one is expecting any compensation from the restaurant in a run-of-the-mill stomach upset case, so there is no incentive to lie about it.

Ivan Viehoff
2009-Mar-17, 10:07 AM
My general view on food safety regs is that the large food processing companies have been pleased to have more food safety regs, because usually quite a lot of them are difficult for small food companies to comply with at reasonable cost, and therefore reduces competitive pressure.

A little while back in this country that the price of beef and lamb was going up and up, but the amount of money the farmers got was going down and down. This was due to all the additional inspections and regulations in the food processing chain, meaning that the money was in meat processing. But they brought all of this regulation in without any evidence that there was any significant public health problem that needed solving.

sarongsong
2009-Mar-18, 04:22 AM
Wasn't mad-cow disease the reason for heightened inspections?

Jens
2009-Mar-18, 07:39 AM
I also wonder if we have started to assume that food is safe and we have lost some common sense things to make sure the food you wash actually is safe.

Well, we might not have it, but I doubt we've lost it. People hundreds of years ago also managed to die of food poisoning, so it's not like they knew what was safe and what wasn't.

Ivan Viehoff
2009-Mar-18, 10:44 AM
Wasn't mad-cow disease the reason for heightened inspections?
It was certainly the reason for some of them, and the excuse for others. But it doesn't explain all of the increased regulations. Particularly in the case of sheep. My perception is that the divergence between price in the shops and price received by the farmer was even larger for sheep than for beef.

Larry Jacks
2009-Mar-18, 04:00 PM
I remember reading an article a few years ago about using radiation to kill bacteria on food. IIRC, the article claimed that about 4,000 Americans died of food poisoning each year and many times that number were sickened. Food irradiation would prevent most of that. However, despite years of safe use by NASA and others, activists were preventing food irradiation because of the possibility it might make someone sick someday. In order to prevent the possibility that someone might get sick, they were willing to live with the certainty that thousands would die each year. Seemed kind of skewed to me.

Like just about any form of regulations, there comes a point of diminishing returns where additional regulations result in only a very small improvement in what they're trying to change while the costs simply keep increasing. Better enforcement of existing regulations would likely accomplish more for the price than simply creating new rules.

Fazor
2009-Mar-18, 04:06 PM
... activists were preventing food irradiation because of the possibility it might make someone sick someday. In order to prevent the possibility that someone might get sick, they were willing to live with the certainty that thousands would die each year. Seemed kind of skewed to me.

'Radiation' is a scary word. They should call it "Super-fun happy waves of goodness" treatment, for starters.

Though some of the illnesses come from where the food is produced and/or packaged; much of it comes from improper handling or storage in restaurants or by the consumer. I know I don't always store foods in the ideal environments. (Leaving the Ketchup out overnight by accident, for instance).

NEOWatcher
2009-Mar-18, 04:55 PM
'Radiation' is a scary word. They should call it "Super-fun happy waves of goodness" treatment, for starters.
It was called that up until about the 1930's.

Radium was even a good food additive according to wiki.


Though some of the illnesses come from where the food is produced and/or packaged; much of it comes from improper handling or storage in restaurants or by the consumer.
Yes; but some of that was already on the food product, and the improper post-handling just gives it a chance to grow.

Fazor
2009-Mar-18, 05:10 PM
Regardless, in 50 years, our food will all come from rehydrated pills a-la the Jetsons, thus it won't be a problem anyway. :)

Gillianren
2009-Mar-18, 05:20 PM
The information I'm finding shows that the big food industry types are actually vehemently opposed to regulation; they don't want to pay for it, either. They successfully lobbied under the previous administration to get regulations scaled back.

NEOWatcher
2009-Mar-18, 05:22 PM
Regardless, in 50 years, our food will all come from rehydrated pills a-la the Jetsons, thus it won't be a problem anyway. :)
Since the Jetsons were (supposedly) 2062, it seems like the pills caught on real quick. But then again, it was probably phased in starting with that 2015 dehydrated pizza.

mugaliens
2009-Mar-18, 11:45 PM
There's a couple of arguements, with some solid basis, against using radiated food on a widespread basis, the principle one being lack of exposure.

Our body's defense mechanisms are multi-layered. Innoculation/immunity is but one layer. Low-level exposure can be contained by other layers (such as GG) but allows the body to become slightly infected, thereby building immunity and preventing death in case of higher-level exposure. Current practices of washing allow for minimal exposure - enough for our bodies to handle.

Elimination of this natural building of immunity for all foods would result in severely weakened immune systems, to the point where something as simple as touching dirt then putting a finger in one's mouth could prove deadly.

We live in symbiosis with our environment, including billions of bacteria within our bodies. Eliminating any significant portion of exposure results in a very unhealthy, non-evolutionary imbalance would could result in tens of thousands, if not millions of deaths, instead of just the 4,000 each year.

Ronald Brak
2009-Mar-18, 11:55 PM
There is a fair bit of irradiated food on US supermarket shelves at the moment including fruit, dried spices and ground meat. But the amount is limited due to caution, the machines required are pricey and the more the food is irradiated the more molecules you want to eat can get busted up.

Jens
2009-Mar-19, 06:56 AM
I think that one issue about irradiated food is (if I'm not mistaken), it is partly a way to get rid (temporarily) of the problem of nuclear waste. We have lots of radioactive waste being produced by reactors, and there is a problem of how to dispose of it. If you irradiate food, you can use the waste for that purpose for some time, making it seem like there is no waste. Someday it will have to be disposed of, but we can delay that day with food irradiation. Same thing with depleted uranium shells, although that is a more permanent solution in a way, because it allows the US to make the waste somebody else's problem.

Fazor
2009-Mar-19, 02:23 PM
I'm a firm believer in what Mugs posted above. I don't go crazy about having to wash my hands every 10 minutes. I don't like antibacterial soap, unless a specific circumstance calls for it. Running cold water over my produce and lightly "scrubbing" it with my hands is good enough for me.

I don't get sick often. I can't prove that is as a result of not over-eradicating possible contaminants. But I can say it sure seems the people I know that sterilize everything, and medicate every sneeze, seem to get sick all the frigg'n time.

(Of course, there's a really bad flu bug going around that my g/f had, my best friend, his wife, and his daughter had, and a half-dozen other people I know that I come into contact with had, that I did not get. So now I think I'm invincible. ;)).

Arneb
2009-Mar-19, 03:20 PM
mugaliens, this is a problem that is being discussed a lot professionally.

If you like to dig deeper, here (http://content.nejm.org/cgi/reprint/360/10/949.pdf) is a free New England Journal of Medicine article about the problem (in a US American National perspective) with a good reference list. Get back to me if I can help you with an article or with medical jargon.

NosePicker
2009-Mar-19, 04:09 PM
Microbe evolution has it's own joker to toss into the deck of food poisoning. Some of them are evolving into nastier versions of their relatively harmless old selves as we attempt to sterilize our lives. E-coli comes to mind.