02/13/2012 03:43:00 PMTom Karst
The elimination of the USDA Microbiological Data Program is very sad and equally dangerous. This program detects pathogens on vegetable commodities such as lettuce, sprouts and cantaloupe. It is tremendously reliable and the turnaround time is definitely adequate to allow for "tainted" product to be removed from stores and consumer households. The Food and Drug Administration has no programs that even come close to testing the amount of product currently tested through the vital Microbiological Data Program. It is such a travesty that critics and the industry have helped to eliminate a program that was no doubt savings lives.
The USDA MDP was never intended to work as a food safety tool. The legal environment has changed greatly since the inception of MDP and its unintended consequences were never anticipated. MDP was originally funded to do two things: establish a baseline norm for background microbiota, that it, find out what normal microorganisms exist on fresh produce; and train state labs to handle/work with fresh produce in a laboratory setting so that in the case of a bioterrorism event, they would be prepared. The poultry industry completed their microbiological survey in 12 months. MDP is a decade old. If they have not determined a microbiological norm by now, they probably never will and the state labs certainly must be ready by now. MDP has resulted in numerous recalls, NONE of which has ever been linked to a single foodborne illness. This is documented in spite of claims like the previous one. Additionally, the testing is usually done in the retail sector (distribution centers) and when there is positive test result, changes in the law since the inception of MDP require FDA to recall whichever lot the product comes from even though the source of the adulteration may not be known or linked to the producer. There are better ways in place of protecting the food supply than this outdated program which was never intended to protect the food supply and which in reality has not. USDA bureaucracy has bloated the program which was originally intended to be temporary, but over the years many at USDA have made careers from it. I am all for programs that will keep our food supply safer but the MDP program wastes food safety dollars on a program that not only does not work but in actuality is counterproductive. One positive thing that can be said about MDP however is that after its first year or two, the USDA was the perfect government agency to oversee the project. After all, they regulate pork.
I looked at the original congressional language when the microbiological data program was created. I was toenumerate generic e. coli, coliforms, and test for salmonella and e coli O157:H7. Teaching state programs was not one of the goals. Let me ask, if you find salmonella or E coli O157:H7, as a scientist, what are you to do? ignore it? Due diligence says to report it to the responsible regulatory agency. IF they find sufficient evidence to do a recall, so be it. What is suggested by ignoring a positive detection would be outrageous and I think the program would be in deep trouble for spending tax payer funds and not reporting to regulatory agencies a positive finding. The growers should embrace this program not try to cut it.
I just can't understand why more American consumers are not outraged by this travesty. Their food safety net just took a huge hit!!!!!!
I have to agree with Charlie. In my experience, the USDA sampling program has been slow with results. Typically they notify a company of a positive finding long after the product has been consumed. I can't see how this protects consumers.