Long Road From Farm To Plate Worsens Food Outbreaks

AP/The Huffington Post BY MARY CLARE JALONICK
First Posted: 10/3/11 08:17 AM ET Updated: 10/3/11 08:26 AM ET

Associated Press) WASHINGTON — 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.

“Increasingly with agribusiness you have limited producers of any given food, so a breakdown in a facility or plant or in a large field crop operation exposes thousands because of the way the food is distributed,” says Dr. Brian Currie, an infectious disease specialist at Montefiore Medical Center in New York.

The Colorado cantaloupe crop that’s linked to 84 illnesses and as many as 17 deaths in 19 states has traveled so far and wide that producer Jensen Farms doesn’t even know exactly where their fruit ended up.

The company said last week that it can’t provide a list of retailers that sold the tainted fruit because the melons were sold and resold. It named the 28 states where the fruit was shipped, but people in other states have reported getting sick.

A Kansas-based processor that purchased cantaloupes from Jensen, Carol’s Cuts, didn’t provide a notice to its customers that it had sold the farm’s cantaloupes until nine days after the original recall

“The food chain is very complex,” says Sherri McGarry, a senior adviser in the Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Foods. “There are many steps, and the more steps there are the harder it can be to link up each step to identify what the common source” of an outbreak is.

Food Contamination is occurring more often world-wide.

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