Lengthy Journey From Farm to Fork Makes Food Outbreaks More Widespread, Harder to Trace

Publication: Associated Press

Author: Mary Clare Jalonick


10/02/2011 - The recent listeria outbreak from cantaloupe demonstrates one likely cause of large-scale occurrences of serious illnesses linked to tainted food: the long and winding road what we eat takes from farm to fork.

A cantaloupe grown on a Colorado field may make four or five stops before it reaches the dinner table. There’s the packing house where it is cleaned and packaged, then the distributor who contracts with retailers to sell the melons in large quantities. A processor may cut or bag the fruit. The retail distribution center is where the melons are sent out to various stores. Finally it’s stacked on display at the grocery store.

Imported fruits and vegetables, which make up almost two-thirds of the produce consumed in the United States, have an even longer journey.

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A food safety law passed by Congress last year gives the FDA new power to improve tracing food through the system. Food safety advocates say the law will help make the food network safer by focusing on making every step in the chain safer and making it easier to find the source of outbreaks.

For the first time, larger farms are required to submit plans detailing how they are keeping their produce safe.

Erik Olson, director of food and consumer safety programs for the Pew Health Group, says it is critical that those improvements are made to prevent more, larger outbreaks as the system grows more complex.

"Clearly the food industry has just changed enormously in the last several decades," Olson said. "It would be virtually impossible to sit down and eat a meal and eat food that hasn't come from all over the world."

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Read the full Associated Press article, Lengthy Journey From Farm to Fork Makes Food Outbreaks More Widespread, Harder to Trace, on the Washington Post's Web site.

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