jueves, 14 de enero de 2010

Food Safety and Government Agencies

Incompetence or shared holiday time?
In the eight day period from Christmas Eve to New Year's Day we have seen the worst performance out of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) we can remember.
On Christmas Eve, FSIS announced that Oklahoma-based National Steak & Poultry was recalling 248,000 pounds of so-called "non-intact" steaks that were "blade tenderized." The beef was connected to illnesses of E. coli O157:H7 in Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, South Dakota and Washington.
There it stood over the long Christmas weekend. No list of restaurants could be obtained from FSIS, CDC, or National Steak. The long list of steak products with its various codes and letters gave clues because it included items like "Carino's Boneless" and "Moe's Beef Steak."
In the movie "Jaws" the town fathers opt not to warn the public about the mammoth shark because they do not want to ruin the tourist season. FSIS reportedly began its investigation on Dec. 11, but managed to time the recall when it would get the least attention.
Such timing is suspicious on its face. Whether FSIS and/or National Steak was motivated by wanting to not impact the holiday business of the various chain restaurants involved, I do not know.
The other possibility--sheer incompetence--is depressing. From his resume, it does not look like Jerold Mande, the acting Under Secretary for Food Safety, ever previously supervised much more than someone to make copies or get his coffee.
My guess is that at both CDC and FSIS way too many people were given the same holiday time off that the President was obviously enjoying. That's a management problem.
The National Steak recall quickly had another hot aspect to it as we learned food safety advocates had warned the Secretary of Agriculture about how "non-intact" steaks can become contaminated through the tenderization process. Secretary Tom Vilsack never responded to the warning. (See "USDA Warned of Risky Steak Last June," Dec. 28, 2009).
Source: Food Safety news

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