Learning from outbreaks

08/16/2013 12:15:00 PM
The Packer Editorial Board

As the Taylor Farms cyclospora outbreak should illustrate to the produce industry, an outbreak can happen to anyone.

United Fresh Produce Association president Tom Stenzel said in an early August town hall meeting in Salinas, Calif., that Taylor Farms is among the most respected companies with regard to food safety.

“This has affected a company that is state-of-the-art, that has magnificent processes, that’s had the best inspections, that’s had FDA look at every nook and cranny, who does the best audits of growers,” Stenzel said. “And we still have a problem.”

It’s been a strange problem from the beginning because it’s not the E. coli or salmonella the industry has come to fear, test for and control.

Cyclospora is a tropical parasite rarely found in the U.S. The last widespread outbreak in the U.S. was linked to Guatemalan raspberries in 1996.

Taylor Farms president Bruce Taylor said its proprietary SmartWash isn’t even calibrated to kill cyclospora because it’s not a bacteria.

The company initially kept its Mexican facility open because it couldn’t find cyclospora there after 60 tests, and all product from the outbreak was long gone from the facility and marketplace.

But on Aug. 12, it stopped production and shipment of salads from there until it receives FDA approval to resume.

FDA said Taylor Farms has been cooperative throughout the investigation.

Taylor Farms, the industry, and health agencies have explained the outbreak with facts, and the media and consumers seem to be closer to understanding how outbreaks can happen and why they’re hard to prevent and track.

Education is raising the level of the conversation.

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