In these tough economic times, many consumers have come to expect a certain degree of belt-tightening at the supermarket. However, the latest round of government budget cuts may soon affect consumer food supplies far beyond the price tag – including risk to personal injury.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Congress is currently threatening to eliminate the Microbiological Data Program – the only regulatory initiative that regularly screens domestic produce for deadly pathogens such as the E. coli strain that recently killed 40 and sickened over 4,000 throughout Germany. Driven by pressure from the agricultural industry and a pressing need to cut spending, the House approved a bill last month to end the program’s $4.5 million funding; and if the measure passes in the Senate, testing and subsequent recall measures to prevent salmonella and E. coli infection will come to a screeching halt.
Consumer risk vs. government spending – and how to stay safe in the crossfire
Currently, the Microbiological Data Program tests approximately 15,000 samples of pathogen-prone produce every year – enough to prompt 19 recalls in the last two years and keep a close and consistent watch on vulnerable items like sprouts, cilantro, spinach, tomatoes, lettuce and cantaloupe as it makes its way to supermarket shelves. Proponents of the budget-trimming measure argue that other provisions exist to test for contamination, and that the program’s funding could be “better utilized elsewhere.”
But according to safe food advocates, no other government agency offers comprehensive tests akin to those provided by the Microbiological Data program; and as Ken Cook of the Environmental Working Group puts it, “since when does it make sense not to check food for potentially deadly pathogens?”
Caught between activists like Cook, members of Congress and agribusiness giants looking towards the bottom line, consumers may begin to feel helpless when it comes to ensuring food safety at home. After all, most shoppers rely heavily on the government to keep food supplies safe and nutritious – and without confidence in regulatory bodies, a simple trip to the supermarket can feel like a minefield.
Fortunately, there are steps we as responsibly consumers can take to prevent contaminated food and keep our friends and families safe – even in the midst of congressional debate over testing procedures:
Check for product recalls: keep an eye on the local headlines for recall announcements, and go online to www.recalls.gov for the latest updates and details regarding unsafe food and other consumer goods.
Make smart purchases: when buying fresh produce, choose items without any bruising or damage and only select portioned items (such as bagged greens or halved watermelons) that have been refrigerated or stored over ice.
Separate meats and produce: When transporting and storing groceries, keep raw meat, poultry and seafood products separate from fresh produce items – especially those that will be consumed raw.
Fortunately, even budget cuts won’t stop those dedicated to food safety from petitioning for proper testing procedures. Check back for updates as we keep a close watch on Congress’ assessment of the Microbiological Data Program; and if you or someone you know has already been affected by a food-borne illness, contact a personal injury attorney at the Law Offices of Michael Pines today for a free consultation on how to proceed.