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Who’s accountable for E. coli in our produce?

Michael R. Taylor, former administrator of USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service and FDA’s deputy commissioner for policy, told the Baltimore Sun his opinion on who is at fault for the recent E. coli outbreak tied to tained spinach.

Despite repeated calls by the Government Accountability Office and the National Academy of Sciences to modernize the food safety laws and unify the food safety agencies, Congress hasn’t budged, according to Taylor. He continues:

“The deadly form of E. coli that has sickened so many consumers who merely ate spinach or lettuce lives naturally and harmlessly in the gut of cattle – harmlessly, that is, until it is shed into a cow’s manure and enters the food supply. This occurs through contamination of beef during the slaughter process or contamination of fresh fruits and vegetables as a result of manure infecting water supplies, birds picking up the bacteria in one field and depositing it in another, or any one of the many other ways bad bugs spread in the environment. The risk of someone getting sick is determined by such contamination events and by all the things that do or do not happen afterward to increase, reduce or eliminate the bacteria before they reach the dinner plate. For spinach, lettuce and other produce consumed raw, the only sure-fire protection is to prevent the contamination in the first place, and that’s where the system breaks down.

No one is in charge of leading the research, regulatory and educational initiatives that would be required to discover and implement effective preventive measures, such as vaccines, competitive exclusion agents in animal feed and other innovative tools to prevent infections in animals.”

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