Recent outbreaks underscore traceability's importance

10/11/2011 12:41:00 PM
Dan Gailbraith

“It’s becoming so important to identify sourcing,” he said. “For instance, this whole melon outbreak in Colorado, they got right to the shipper very quickly, compared to the tomato incident a couple of years ago.

“Now, they were lucky in the sense that the FDA in their investigation, had real product with real hits in it. That kind of confirmation just makes that whole traceback more concrete. I’m a former FDA guy, and I remember the frustration of not seeing the same organism at both locations, not finding the smoking gun. But here they got it.”

There are two lessons to be learned, he said.

“Testing from one side or the other, whether the retailer found it and told them, the word got to health authorities quickly enough to get back to the consumer,” he said.

“Then, going back to the grower-shipper instead of going to multiple states,” he added.

However, the cantaloupe listeria outbreak also revealed gaps in the traceability network — such as the ability to trace the contaminated product to all retailers that might be carrying it. Also, the FDA’s original warning encompassed the region, rather than pinpointing Jensen Farms, which hurt other cantaloupe growers.

Two members of Congress have called for hearings into the outbreak, saying that “the inability to track which retailers across the country may be selling these specific melons has not only frightened consumers across the country and jeopardized their health, but has had devastating economic costs for other cantaloupe growers swept up in a recall that did not involve their fruit.”


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