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Shhh! Don’t tell anyone about the salmonella

Submitted by on Tuesday, 26 May 2009 No Comment

Setton Pistachio’s stupid manufacturing trick isn’t quite in the league of Peanut Corporation of America, which knew its products were tainted with salmonella but shipped them anyway.

At least Setton reroasted pistachios that tested positive for salmonella – a perfectly acceptable method for handling the situation, by the way.

What the company didn’t do: Anything to change its manufacturing process for six months, until Kraft Foods reported that its testing had turned up a problem and got the ball rolling with regulators. It was a ball Kraft also dropped for more than a year, discovering the problem in December 2007 but not reporting it until March 2009.

Setton continued to process raw pistachios and roasted pistachios on the same equipment. The company compounded the problem by not retesting tainted nuts to see if the reroasting had cleared up the contamination.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting a different result.

“Failure to manufacture, package, and store foods under conditions and controls necessary to minimize the potential for growth of microorganisms and contamination,” is what the Food and Drug Administration calls it in a  report released last week.

Please don’t confuse that with a violation or a finding that the company did anything wrong. It’s just an observation, the FDA says.

The Food and Drug Administration, meanwhile, is patting itself on the back because the contamination was caught before anyone actually became sick. That’s how the system should work, officials said.

Um, no. The system should require companies to report immediately to state or local authorities any testing that shows signs of contamination. State or federal authorities then should be required to follow up on the report and order changes in flawed manufacturing proccesses.

Until that happens, we’re relying on nothing more than dumb luck to alert us that our food could make us sick.

Sending 10 people to conduct 17 inspections after the fact, as McClatchy Newspapers reports that the FDA did in the Setton case, is the regulatory equivalent of the morning-after pill.

Copyright 2009 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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