Remember the food poisoning outbreak in 2006 when 200 people were sickened by tainted California spinach or lettuce and three died? I sure do. And get this, the company that grew this spinach is called Mission Organics. It was a facility managed by Natural Selections, a corporation that sells produce to upscale supermarkets, like Fresh Fields, which specialize in organic and other supposedly pure foods. Here's how the Post report described the problem.
Since 2001, nearly half of all federal inspections of facilities that package fresh spinach revealed serious sanitary problems, but the Food and Drug Administration did not take "meaningful" enforcement action, a House committee report released yesterday found.Congress is now finally investigating the FDA lapses.
The most common problems uncovered by FDA inspections of 67 facilities included inadequate restroom sanitation, litter piles and indoor condensation posing a risk of food contamination by microorganisms. Inspectors also found buildings vulnerable to rodent infestation and workers with uncovered hair and poor hygiene.
Twenty serious outbreaks of E. coli have been traced to fresh lettuce or spinach since 1995. One of the most troublesome was a 2006 outbreak in bagged spinach processed by California-based Natural Selection Foods that sickened more than 200 people and was linked to three deaths.
The FDA acknowledged gaps in its food safety efforts after that episode. But the report by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee says the problems were worse: It showed that spinach facilities were inspected about once every 2.4 years despite federal guidelines that say most should have been visited at least annually.
But let's face it, the reason for the laxity can be laid right at the feet of the last Congress, run by Republicans. When Newt Gingrich rode the anti-regulatory and anti tax fervor into Congress back in 1994, the FDA, and every other regulatory agency, was targeted for being obstructionist and anti-business. The Republicans waged war on prudent oversight and sensible regulation intended to protect consumers from food borne disease. Funding for federal agencies such as the FDA and USDA were gutted while politicians whipped up anti-government feeling to make it seem as if the government was obstructing legitimate business interests. They left regulation to self-reporting and the honor system.
Yeah, it was the fox guarding the hen house. But what a lucrative hen house it was. Because while the Republican Congress made war on federal agencies and blocked them from doing their job of protecting American children from eating tainted lettuce and spinach, they were lining their pockets and those of their lobbyist friends at the K Street Project.
Glad they are gone. Now let's get the funding and manpower back to the FDA and to all the other federal agencies charged with protecting the American consumer, so they can do their job of guarding us all from domestic food poisoning, unsafe imports from China, and hazardous toys.
After all, what good is it protecting us from a terrorist attack if our lettuce can kill us?