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Eating as risky business

(article, Kim Carlson)

In the contaminated-food fiascos of 2006, the question of who knew what and when is a potent one. There's lots of blame to go around.

The Washington Post reports today that the Food and Drug Administration suspected in 2005 that the ConAgra plant that produced salmonella-contaminated peanut butter last summer may have had problems with salmonella in its products as early as October 2004. But when the FDA asked for documentation for its investigation, and ConAgra didn't provide that documentation, the overstretched governmental agency didn't follow up. 

Further, the FDA has been aware (and even notified growers) of E. coli potential in some agricultural crops (lettuce and spinach) from the Salinas Valley in California since 1995. But again, because it's not properly equipped to investigate the problem, the governmental agency can do little about it. Said Robert Brackett, head of the food-safety arm of the FDA, last week (as quoted in the Post):

bq(blue). We know that there are still problems out in those fields. We knew there had been a problem, but we never and probably still could not pinpoint where the problem was. We could have that capability, but not at this point.

Hardly reassuring news, that. According to the Post_ article, at least one Congressman is looking into ways to bolster the FDA's strength, which has diminished in recent years. 

Meanwhile, we all have to eat.

The blogger Expat Chef offers up her response to the frustration many of us feel in a post on the Eat Local Challenge site:

bq(blue). Beyond blaming, what can we do? Because blaming does not solve the issue of getting dinner on the table tonight. As consumers we need to decrease our reliance on processed foods and mass-scale agriculture. We need to Eat Local, to buy food from people we know and trust, who feed their own families the same produce and meats that they sell to us. And, we need to tell our government that we are mad, that we do not support them. And tell companies who sell us tainted product, knowingly, that we don't care to buy their products. Any of them. And there are many.

Buying local is a good solution when it works, and for spinach and other greens it works a lot of the time, depending on where we live. But peanut butter? Usually buying that staple feels like a simple leap of faith.