By Dan Flynn on November 3, 2019
Note: At this time, the credibility of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is not to be trusted. Both agencies have shown a reckless disregard for the public’s right to know, and their reliability going forward remains suspect.
For the next six weeks, Food Safety News will publish the note above on every story involving the FDA or CDC. It’s going to be our little way of reminding our readers that the FDA and CDC spent the last six weeks or so lying to the public every damn day.
The official lies are over yet another outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 from contamination of romaine lettuce. FDA and CDC have a lame excuse for hiding the outbreak from the public for six weeks.
There have been three recent E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks likely caused by romaine. Deadly and embarrassing outbreaks for romaine growers and the regulating agencies. Almost 300 people in those three outbreaks were infected and six people are dead.
Embarrassing because the Leafy ‘Greens Marketing Associations that mandate every aspect of how romaine may be grown are not doing the job, and the FDA’s Produce Rule might be impressive as somebody’s college thesis, but it is not yet effective regulation.
And this fourth romaine outbreak in less than two years occurred at an inopportune time, especially for FDA and its “Smarter Food Safety” campaign. It’s easy to see why the agencies wanted this one to just go away.
But hide it they did. Another romaine lettuce outbreak with 23 people infected from July 12 to Sept. 8 in a dozen states were facts keep from the public. It was a little secret kept from the public by the government and growers.
“The FDA is communicating details about the outbreak at this time to help ensure full awareness by the public and to highlight the ongoing importance of industrial action to help ensure the safety of leafy greens,” FDA said when it finally fessed up.
And, FDA finally went public because only because it got caught.
Most of what the agency said was Micky Mouse. The product being beyond its shelf life has never been a reason for not sharing outbreak information with the public.
The public’s been getting a steady diet of these romaine outbreaks.
CDC officials notified FDA officials about this latest one on Sept. 19. Neither agency notified the public. The agencies agreed they had another romaine outbreak on their hands on Oct. 2.
The CDC also offered the lame excuse that outbreak warnings are “generally posted when there is something actionable for consumers to do.”
This strikes me as a statement consistent with a coverup. It has not been CDC policy. Outbreak reports are routinely issued without something actionable for people to do. And, public education about public health, part of CDC’s mission, is about keeping the public up to date on foodborne diseases.
The FDA and CDC decided to keep secrets for industry instead of serving the public, there is a question of whether they jumped or were pushed to reveal the outbreak. We may never know. We cannot compel the government to tell the truth
This lame excuse they’ve used, however, is one we’ve heard before. Before anyone had ever heard of this cow bacteria/lettuce problem, there was a national program that tested fresh produce for foodborne pathogens. It was USDA’s Microbiological Data Program (MDP).
The way it worked was that the USDA paid about a dozen Land Grant universities to test fresh produce in their areas around harvest time. It was sort of a trip-wire system. MDP worked close enough to harvest times to have some impact. The USDA program operated from 2001 to 2012.
But the growers hated it and used their political muscle to kill it. They said fresh produce was consumed before MDP lab testing was completed. Sound familiar?
What they really feared was MDP testing finding pathogen contamination just as the product was hitting the market, and that did happen. They figured the best way to suppress those tests was to kill MDP entirely and that’s what they did.
It seems that an industry that relies on sunshine and daylight to grow its crops sure likes sneaking around in the dark.
Six weeks of our running the warning notices won’t change anything, but it will let a few more people know this is happening.
John Munsell • an hour ago
One statement in the article above was "FDA is communicating details about the outbreak at this time to help ensure full awareness by the public…." Instantly, I thought of Pearl Harbor. America was totally unprepared for Pearl Harbor, and our lack of diligence was disastrous. Only AFTER THE FACT was America notified of the global danger of Japan’s war plans. Our lack of preparedness and preventive actions resulted in an armed forces catastrophe at Pearl Harbor. Similarly, the lack of effective preventive steps by the much-ballyhooed Leafy Greens Marketing Association continues to spawn outbreaks. And the FDA/CDC partnership cannot claim it utilizes an "Abundance of Caution", nor can claim its policies are "Science Based", two disingenuous default claims by both agencies. Secondly, the discontinuance of the MDP Lab Testing, as stated in the article, is fully understandable; not because the contaminated produce may have already been consumed before lab testing was finished. Rather, because the MDP lab testing could very well have provided smoking gun evidence that one or more growers had chronic, ongoing problems with E.coli, Salmonella, or Listeria bacteria. That would have been embarrassing to FDA & CDC, and (gulp) would have forced the partnership to consider uncomfortable and delicate enforcement actions against the grower…..this requires courage on the part of FDA/CDC. A case in point about decreasing the frequency of agency testing was observed in my plant. After my plant experienced a positive test for E.coli O157:H7 on ground beef in January 2002, the agency commenced a subsequent 15 consecutive days of testing to ensure that my "Corrective Actions" were adequate to control H7. The 15 subsequent tests were FSIS policy at that time. Well, on three consecutive days, Feb 19 – 21, the tests were positive. Unfortunately for FSIS, the FSIS inspector who collected and shipped the samples to the FSIS lab had closely monitored all aspects of my plant’s production of ground beef. For example, the inspector knew that on all 3 days, the only meat I ground came from ConAgra’s plant # 969 in Greeley, Co. And, that the ConAgra meat had all been produced on ONE day. And, that I had not previously ground any meat on those 3 days, so there could not have been any residual bacteria left over from previous grinds those 3 days. Both the inspector and his vet supervisor hand-wrote a document (which appeared on NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw on August 1) showing their concern that other source material may still be out in commerce from the one source plant, with a risk to public health and food safety. After this embarrassing fiasco, how did FSIS respond? The agency discontinued its 15-sample policy! Truth be damned! Adverse lab results were not exposed to sunlight, but were conveniently circumvented by eliminating testing.. Yet, FSIS continues to claim its policies utilize an "Abundance of Caution", and are "Science Based". Well, perhaps political science and science fiction. Subsequently, FSIS did initiate a replacement policy to increase testing, but well below the frequency of the prior 15 sample protocol. While the agency did nothing at plant # 969 to require corrective actions after the damning test results at my plant, the agency did not allow me to grind under inspection for 4 months. What happened after 4 months to convince FSIS it should allow me to grind again? Answer: ConAgra announced a 19 million lb recall because of ongoing problems with H7. Inexplicably,, the altruistic folks at FSIS informed me I could commence grinding again! Not because I had suddenly implemented new production steps to control H7, but merely because FSIS realized it suffered from cranial/rectal inversion. Bottom line: our gov agencies are hesitant to implement additional testing, because adverse lab results might force the agencies to consider awkward enforcement actions. Plus, the adverse lab results reveal the inadequacy of agency oversight. We do need to acknowledge that true, original HACCP did NOT include testing of finished product. Why? Because true, original HACCP was designed for Ready-To-Eat meats, which will consistently produce excellent lab results. Against advice from scientists on the FSIS NACMCF, FSIS mandated HACCP on plants producing RAW meat, as well as requiring Zero Tolerance…. on RAW meats! Mission Impossible. Romaine lettuce is likewise raw. Thus, as much as we don’t want to admit it, Romaine has not been subjected to a kill step, such as irradiation or full cooking. So, the presence of bacteria has to be anticipated, hopefully in less frequency than we’ve seen this fall. John Munsell