Every day, inspectors in white hats and coats take up positions at every one of the nation’s slaughterhouses, eyeballing the hanging carcasses of cows and chickens as they shuttle past on elevated rails, looking for bruises, tumors and signs of contamination.
It’s essentially the way U.S. Department of Agriculture food safety inspectors have done their jobs for a century, ever since Upton Sinclair’s blockbuster novel, “The Jungle,” exposed horrid conditions in a Chicago meatpacking facility and shook Americans awake to the hazards of tainted food.
But these days, the bulk of what Americans eat — seafood, vegetables, fruit, dairy products, shelled eggs and almost everything except meat and poultry — is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. And the FDA inspects the plants it oversees on average about once a decade.
These radically different approaches are a legacy from a time when animal products were thought to be inherently risky and other food products safe. But in the past few years, the high-profile and deadly outbreaks of food-borne illness linked to spinach, peanuts and cantaloupe have put the lie to that assumption.
The FDA’s approach is partly by necessity: The agency lacks the money to marshal more inspectors.
But it also reflects a different philosophy about how to address threats to the nation’s food supply: an approach based on where the risk is greatest.
The agency concentrates its limited inspections on food products that have the worst track record on safety — seafood, for example — and on companies with a history of problems. It puts most of its efforts into responding to outbreaks after the fact, using genetic fingerprinting and other scientific tools to track contaminants back to their source in hopes of stopping any further spread.
DENVER (AP) — A food safety expert told Colorado farmers Thursday that last year’s deadly listeria outbreak traced to Colorado cantaloupe proved that they cannot rely on third-party inspections to guarantee their produce is safe.
MORE: Listeria-linked cantaloupe farm had rated high in audit
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Larry Goodridge, associate professor at the Center for Meat Safety and Quality in the Department of Animal Sciences at Colorado State University, told farmers that they bear primary responsibility for food safety.
“Each farm or processing facility has to be able to assess their own risks,” Goodridge told the governor’s annual forum on Colorado agriculture in Denver. “Everybody who produces food has to be responsible for the safety of the food they produce. You cannot rely on third parties. You just can’t.”
The listeria outbreak traced to Jensen Farms in eastern Colorado last year was blamed for the deaths of 32 people. It infected 146 people in 28 states with one of four strains of the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Jensen Farms was given a “superior” inspection rating by a third-party auditor just before the outbreak.
US scientists say a human antibody has been shown to protect lab monkeys from the deadly Hendra virus, which has killed 20 horses in NSW and Queensland since June.
Scientists said there were promising signs for the treatment of the bat-borne virus after research was carried out at a highly protected lab in Montana.
The Hendra virus, which was discovered in Australia in 1994, was last week declared endemic in NSW and Queensland after a recent surge in outbreaks.
There have been 18 outbreaks across both states this year, including eight in NSW.
Although no humans have been affected, four of the seven people ever to have contracted the disease have died.
Before this year’s extraordinary cluster, 14 horses had died since 1994.
The research, described in the journal Science Translational Medicine, was done at a high-security lab in Montana, where 14 African green monkeys were injected with Hendra virus.
Twelve of the monkeys were then treated with a human antibody called m102.4, and they all survived while the untreated pair died.
Earlier experiments on smaller animals have also shown efficacy from the antibody against Hendra virus.
After the US study on monkeys concluded in 2010, the antibody was injected in a woman and her 12-year-old daughter in Australia last year as an emergency protection for exposure to Hendra.
While the two survived with no side effects from the treatment, scientists say more study needs to be done before the antibody can be used as a widespread remedy.
“I think this is a very promising therapy, especially when you consider that it was still strong three days later,” said lead author Thomas Geisbert of the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.
The listeria outbreak that has killed up to 16 people and sickened more than 70, could get worse according to health officials, who are still in the process of trying to determine where contaminated cantaloupes might have been shipped. As AP reported :
Federal health officials said Wednesday more illnesses and possibly more deaths may be linked to an outbreak of listeria in cantaloupe in coming weeks.
So far, the outbreak has caused at least 72 illnesses — including up to 16 deaths — in 18 states, making it the deadliest food outbreak in the United States in more than a decade.
The heads of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration said consumers who have cantaloupes produced by Jensen Farms in Colorado should throw them out. If they are not sure where the fruit is from, they shouldn’t eat it.
Neither the government nor Jensen Farms has supplied a list of retailers who may have sold the fruit. Officials say consumers should ask retailers about the origins of their cantaloupe. If they still aren’t sure, they should get rid of it.
“If it’s not Jensen Farms, it’s OK to eat,” said Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC. “But if you can’t confirm it’s not Jensen Farms, then it’s best to throw it out.”
FRANKFURT – THE death toll from a killer bacteria outbreak rose to 36 on Monday, German health officials said, one day after warning that more fatalities cannot be ruled out.
The Robert Koch Institute (RKI), Germany’s national disease agency, said 3,228 people had fallen sick from the virulent EHEC (enterohaemorrhagic E. coli) or the linked kidney ailment haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS).
On Sunday, German officials said 34 people had died in the country, but upped that figure to 35 on Monday.
A woman who had travelled to Germany also previously died in Sweden.
‘For many days the number of new infections from EHEC or HUS communicated to the RKI has declined in the country,’ the agency said in a statement that confirmed the new toll.
German Health Minister Daniel Bahr told Sunday’s Bild am Sonntag newspaper that he was encouraged by the decline in new infections, but warned that more deaths were still possible. — AFP