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Are Food Processors Gaming the System with Lab Shopping?

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How safe is that forkful of food you just put in your mouth?  Given all of the recent food recalls, episodes of food-borne illness and death, how concerned should we be about our food processing system?

A Texas activist isn’t surprised that we are experiencing problems with our food processors and food contamination.  He claims there’s a dangerous game in the food processing industry, similar to the  “pharmacist shopping” that prescription drug users reportedly use. If you don’t like the results from one lab, shop around until you get a negative result that you can send to the government regulators

Because this rancher has allegedly been the target of a government “starve out” campaign in the southwest, and fears retaliation, I will call him "Rancher A."  According to Rancher A, it isn’t unusual for a food processing plant which has one positive lab report for contamination to shop around until a lab gives it a clean bill of health.

Like the junkie who “shops for docs” and gets prescriptions filled by different doctors, he says the processing plants don’t worry about one bad lab report, because they know that all they have to do is keep shopping around until a lab gives them a “good report.”

According to Rancher A, one plant under investigation reportedly got twelve positive reports for E. coli, until it finally found a lab that sent back a negative contamination report. 

"When they got these they took another sample and sent it to another lab until they got a clean sample to give the FDA.  Evidently this is legal.  They did not even clean up between batches of positive samples. I wonder how long this had been going on - perhaps years." (Interview)

Our food production and processing system are dangerously broken.  People are dying and being sickened needlessly because of the lack of oversight by regulatory agencies. 

Rush Limbaugh and others have been pilloried in the media for allegedly shopping around for doctors who are more amenable to writing out prescriptions for narcotics.  Now, riddle me this:  what is more dangerous, a food processing plant that shops around to find a lab that will give them a clean bill of health, or a prescription medication abuser who shops around for a “friendly doctor” who will write a possibly unnecessary prescription.

If the medication addict gets a friendly doctor to write out a medically unnecessary prescription, the only person he is hurting is himself—and a few others if the meds send him off the deep end into violent or dangerous behavior.  It’s a whole different kettle of fish when we start talking about food processors faking lab reports and shopping for positive test results, when they know their plant is more contaminated than untreated sewer water.

The scale is absolutely frightening. A single food plant has the potential to kill and harm thousands of people, cause millions of dollars worth of damage in recalled product and product liability claims. One plant that ignores food sanitation procedures can process hundreds of thousands of pounds of contaminated product and ship it all over the world.

These days, food-processing plants process all sorts of products.  My source also claims that one plant, in particular, didn’t clean up between batches, thereby spreading the contamination across product lines and broadening the scope of the contamination.

The Food and Drug Administration has thousands of rules about food processing, plant hygiene, sanitation and decontamination.  Egg, milk, meat and other food processing are strictly regulated by the federal government, and federal standards supersede local and state ones. Hence, according to the FDA:

Producers and/or growers, producers and/or packers (grading stations), and commercial egg breaking facilities operate under USDA jurisdiction, regardless of interstate commerce, pursuant to the Egg Products Inspection Act (EPIA). However, it may be necessary to visit such facilities during Salmonella enteritidis (Se) illness follow-ups, subsequent to the illnesses having been reported to and addressed by the CFSAN Task Force. These visits would be coordinated with USDA and state authorities, to assure the proper diversion of suspect eggs (i.e., to breakers); and that any suspect eggs remaining on the market be addressed (i.e., recall). Click here.

Candy, chewing gum and products containing milk and egg products are under strict processing rules concerning raw material, equipment and manufacturing processes.  Processing rules require pasteurization, proper processing, storage and labeling:

Raw Materials

Egg and milk products must be pasteurized before use or otherwise treated during processing to destroy viable Salmonella microorganisms. Steps must also be taken to insure that other raw materials susceptible to contamination by pathogenic microorganisms (i.e. gelatin, dried coconut, nuts) are free of such organisms before use unless they are pasteurized or otherwise treated before or during processing. Materials capable of supporting growth of pathogenic microorganisms must be held at appropriate temperature and relative humidity except for the period of time actually required for processing and not so long as to effect the wholesomeness of the product. Raw materials such as nuts and corn meal which are susceptible to aflatoxin contamination must comply with FDA regulations, guidelines and action levels for poisonous or deleterious substances or be received under supplier's guarantee of such compliance.

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Wanna be member of the anti-word police, author, columnist, activist and muckraker extraordinaire. Author of:

Land, Legacy and Lynching: Building the Future for Black America

Urban Asylum: Politics, Lunatics and the Refrigerator (more...)
 
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I see the potential for massive regulatory "prunin... by M. Davis on Monday, Feb 9, 2009 at 9:23:22 AM