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Power Lunch

E. Coli Outbreaks: Too Little Being Done?

A recent e. coli outbreak in the spinach crop was attributed to a group of escaped farm pigs that traipsed through a cow patch and wandered into a spinach field. That kind of event is hard for the government to regulate. But Caroline Smith Dewaal, who is food safety director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, says too little is being done both at the federal level and the corporate level regardless.

“Produce is not as safe as it could be,” she told Bill Griffeth on “Power Lunch.” She says it’s “critical” that the government get involved to restore consumer confidence.

Dewaal appeared with Tom Nassif, the president and CEO of Western Growers, which is responsible for 50% of U.S. produce. Nassif says the key to preventing further outbreaks is to keep a close watch on the contamination points: water, wildlife and workers. This is where his group tests for the pathogens that lead to food-born illness.

Speaking to the voluntary guidelines that Dewaal mentioned, Nassif said that he and his company are working with federal and state health agencies, scientists, and buyers and sellers in the industry to formulate rules to prevent further outbreaks. The rules will be mandatory, he said, and they will be enforced by the state and federal government.

Nassif said that of the 76 million people that get sick each year as a result of food-born illness, only 543 of them are caused by tomatoes, spinach and green onions.