God don’t have much to do with it; food safety outbreaks are not flukes of faith; buying might be
Posted: June 3rd, 2012 - 10:16pm
A cantaloupe farmer linked to the listeria-related deaths of 36 people and illnesses of at least 146 in 2011 says the outbreak was “something Mother Nature did. We didn’t have anything to do with it.”
Eric Jensen, the fourth-generation produce grower who runs what’s left of Colorado-based Jensen Farms with his brother Ryan, told the Dallas Morning News, “We’re not selling anything,” adding that he had to lay off his staff of 15 in December. “We’re just sitting still right now. We hope to figure out a way to come out of it. We’ve got four generations worth of work.”
Whatever your god or belief, I’ve yet to see divine intervention as a cause of foodborne illness. Instead, illnesses and outbreaks are frighteningly consistent in their underlying causes: a culmination of a small series of mistakes that, over time, results in illness and death. After-the-fact investigations usually conclude, why didn’t this happen earlier, with all the mistakes going on?
This is no different from other failures such as BP, Bhopal and the space shuttle Challenger: technological sophistication is easily superseded by the vagaries of human behavior and belief.
So while Jensen Farms languishes in bankruptcy and self-affirming fairy-tales, and distributors and retailers ask themselves, why did we rely on such lousy food safety assurances, California growers are trying to develop an industry-wide, mandatory food safety plan.
But based on early indications, California growers are setting up a flawed system that promotes self-satisfaction and soundbites over safety.
Tying a brand or commodity – lettuce, tomatoes, meat -- to the lowest common denominator of government inspections is a recipe for failure. The Pinto automobile also met government standards – didn’t help much in the court of public opinion.
The best growers, processors and retailers will far exceed minimal government standards, will proactively test to verify their food safety systems are working, will transparently publicize those results and will brag about their excellent food safety by marketing at retail so consumers can actually choose safe food.