Buying fresh produce is an act of faith: Here’s why

Buying any sort of fresh produce is an act of faith. The Associated Press explains why in a story today.

At the end of a dirt road in northern Mexico, the conveyer belts processing hundreds of tons of vegetables a year for U.S. and Mexican markets are open to the elements, protected only by a corrugated metal roof.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration suspects this packing plant, its warehouse in McAllen, Texas, and a farm in Mexico are among the sources of the United States’ largest outbreak of food-borne illness in a decade, which infected at least 1,440 people with a rare form of salmonella.

A plant manager confirmed to The Associated Press that workers handling chili peppers aren’t required to separate them according to the sanitary conditions in which they were grown, offering a possible explanation for how such a rare strain of salmonella could have caused such a large outbreak.

The AP has found that while some Mexican producers grow fruits and vegetables under strict sanitary conditions for export to the U.S., many don’t — and they can still send their produce across the border easily.

Neither the U.S. nor the Mexican governments impose any safety requirements on farms and processing plants. That includes those using unsanitary conditions — like those at Agricola Zaragoza — and brokers or packing plants that mix export-grade fruits and vegetables with lower-quality produce. …

(There) is no public list of the chains that require sanitary practices, meaning there’s no way to know whether the fruit and vegetables in any particular store is certified or not. …

Agricola Zaragoza is one of the uncertified plants, manager Emilio Garcia told the AP. He said the packing plant washes produce from both certified and uncertified producers, opening up the possibility for contamination. He refused to give details about his suppliers. …

Kathy Means, a vice president for the U.S. Produce Marketing Associations, said food safety is in the hands of the food industry, with most major produce buyers requiring both U.S. and foreign food producers to have third-party audit programs. However, Means said, not all buyers follow the same rules.

"It’s not government-regulated, so it’s up to the company to require it.”

I say, cut the BS and start deliberately marketing food safety. That way, someone has to back it up; not some dance with an auditor or certifier, or some other third party that has nothing to do with credibility and everything to do with providing distance when the shit hits the fan – or the produce.