Friday, March 23, 2007

E coli outbreak in Sept 06: What caused the problem?

The FDA, yesterday, released their report on possible reasons for the E coli outbreak in September 2006, killing at least two people and sickened hundreds of others. Though the report is inconclusive, they gave plausible explanations.

“One of the key findings from this investigation is that very clearly the problem is multifaceted,” said Dr. David Acheson, chief medical officer for the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition at the F.D.A.

The E. coli 0157:H7 bacteria found on four California ranches not long after the outbreak could have spread to leafy greens in a number of ways, officials said. Contaminated irrigation water, uncomposted manure used as fertilizer, the presence of wildlife and livestock and the hygiene of the workers handling the crops all might have served to transport the bacteria, they said.

For more information on the report, check out this New York Times article.

It's disturbing that in this day in age, the country's ability to check for basic contamination such as E. coli is inadequate. This particular incident was accidental, but one can only imagine what would happen if there were more sinister attempts to disrupt our food supply. Food is one of man's basic needs; hence, it should be one of our highest priorities to protect our food supplies, ranches, and farms.

This is especially important when year after year, farms are being consolidated and our foods are being distributed from centralized facilities, which increases the likelihood of other crops being contaminated.

Start asking questions:
1. What's the best, economical method of protecting against future outbreaks?
2. Is there new technology that allows us to detect contiminated foods in the supply chain?
3. What procedures can the FDA take that will protect both consumers and the bottom line of farmers that have razor-thin margins?

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