05/04/2009 - The recent salmonella outbreaks in peanuts and pistachios revealed a lot about the inability of the Food and Drug Administration to nip such problems in the bud. The FDA is responsible for "protecting the public health by assuring the safety, efficacy, and security of . . . our nation's food supply," yet it doesn't have the authority to order product testing, require that test results be shared with the agency or issue a mandatory recall when a facility moves too slowly -- if at all -- in getting tainted products off the shelves. Legislation to augment its authority is flowing through Congress like peanut butter. The concern is such that private companies and nonprofit groups alike have been pressing for action on food safety legislation in recent meetings with congressional leaders.
Thank the aggressive food safety system at Kraft Foods for last month's recall of the entire 2008 pistachio crop of Setton Pistachio of Terra Bella in California. Internal testing by Kraft between December 2007 and last month found salmonella in a trail mix made from those pistachios. Kraft voluntarily informed the FDA of the positive salmonella test results on March 23 after it was able to link them to Setton's pistachios. There have only been two complaints of illness and no deaths reported.
Read the full editorial A Tale of Two Scares on the The Washington Post's Web site.