Is it just me, or has our food-safety system lapsed into a state of decadence that might have made Caligula blush?
In the past few days, I’ve learned that the FDA ignored clear evidence that mercury was entering the food supply through high-fructose corn syrup; and that the FDA and USDA continue to ignore the increasingly obvious threat of antibiotic-resistant pathogens in industrial pork.
Now I hear mind-numbing news about the Peanut Corporation of America, whose Georgia plant is evidently the source of the salmonella outbreak that has sickened five hundred people, killing seven, nationwide.
Given the breadth of the outbreak and the sheer number of products infected, the company must have owned a mammoth share of the industrial peanut-butter market; its tainted paste has shown up in everything from health-food store staples like Clif Bars to supermarket fodder like Famous Amos cookies.
According to a recent New York Times report, sanitary conditions at the Georgia plant have for years approached the tragi-comic. And despite a steady stream of reproaches from Georgia health officials, the company was allowed to continue churning out peanut butter for the nation’s food factories until the salmonella disaster struck. Here’s a summary of the company’s rap sheet:
The plant … was cited repeatedly in 2006 and 2007 for having dirty surfaces and grease residue and dirt buildup throughout the plant, according to health inspection reports. Inspection reports from 2008 found the plant repeatedly in violation of cleanliness standards.
Oooh. Here’s more:
Inspections of the plant in Blakely, Ga., by the State Agriculture Department found areas of rust that could flake into food, gaps in warehouse doors large enough for rodents to get through, unmarked spray bottles and containers and numerous violations of other practices designed to prevent food contamination.
I note that Times reporter Roni Caryn Rabin had to resort to an open-records request to pry these sordid tales out of Georgia health officials. Nice work. Rabin adds:
The state performs the inspections on behalf of the Food and Drug Administration as part of a contractual agreement with the federal agency, officials said.
Wait a minute. The FDA sat on its hands when it could have acted to avert a health crisis? Shocking!
The the even more scandalous fact is that our food system has become so industrialized and concentrated that shoddy practices in a single plant can endanger eaters nationwide.