Editorial: Listeria outbreak proves need for better oversight
Posted: October 30th, 2011 - 9:41am
Source: Denver Post
Listeria-tainted cantaloupe from Colorado have killed at least 28 people. Given unanswered questions and the need to avoid future outbreaks, officials in Washington and Colorado are right to scrutinize the episode.
Last week, Colorado Agriculture Secretary John Salazar told The Denver Post's Michael Booth that the state intended to assert stronger oversight over its cantaloupe industry.
Potential steps include a label identifying those melons whose growers meet certain safety criteria, including outside audits and pathogen testing prior to shopping.
The state's cantaloupe crop is reportedly an $8 million annual business and it has no doubt taken a blow in the wake of listeria-tainted melons that were traced to Jensen Farms near Holly.
While there is no evidence that practices at Jensen Farms are widespread, the steps Salazar is recommending to ensure safety and to rehabilitate the industry's image strike us as good ones.
An FDA report faulted the ways in which the facility sorted and cooled cantaloupe.
Further troubling, in our view, is a third-party audit shortly before the tainted melons were shipped. That audit noted the questionable methods used for cooling and sorting, but still delivered a 96 out of 100 score.
That begs the question of whether this review was an aberration or if the audit process needs overhauling.
The lab that oversaw the Jensen Farms audit has said future examinations will include swab tests for pathogens such as listeria.
In investigating the issue, Congress should consider making those tests mandatory.
But Congress also must take a closer look at the whether food safety rules are going far enough.
That makes a review of the auditing process -- often paid for by farmers or grocers -- and other safety measures intended to protect consumers all the more important.