"I’m about to have the worst case of taco sh**s."?
That prophetic line offered by Clarissa before engaging in a good-natured game of "Battlesh**s" with Christy in the movie, Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle, has been experienced by some of the 155 sick with salmonella who ate at a Taco Bell since April.
In Dec. 2006, in the wake of the E. coli O157:H7 in spinach mess that killed four and sickened 200, Taco Bell became the butt of endless haranguing by David Letterman after the same bug in lettuce sickened over 100 people (“Their old slogan used to be ‘think outside the bun.. The new slogan is, ‘look outside for the ambulance.’” See the video clip, below).
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control said yesterday that no specific food item have been fingered but fresh produce was suspected.
The spinach outbreak of Sept. 2006 was supposed to be the tipping point (although I have argued the tipping point for fresh produce should have been the 1996 E. coli O157:H7 in Odwalla juice outbreak): for farmers dealing with collapsed markets; for retailers who say they were now going to get serious about questioning their suppliers; and, for consumers who now realize that fresh produce is a significant source of foodborne illness and are voting with their wallets and their forks how can they know if the fresh stuff is safe??
The way this information trickles out does nothing to instill confidence, just like the salmonella outbreak and subsequent recalls in Fresh Express lettuce earlier this year. It’s nice that Taco Bell fully co-operated with CDC and other health types, but they can do better: brag about food safety requirements and back it up by making test results public, market food safety at retail so consumers can choose, and if people get sick from your product, be the first to tell the public.
Fresh fruits and vegetables are good for us; we should eat more, even at Taco Bell. Because fresh produce is just that – fresh, and not cooked — anything that comes into contact is a possible source of contamination. Every mouthful of fresh produce is an act of faith — faith in the growers, distributors, processors, retailers and our own hands.?
Some in the farm-to-fork food safety system want more of the same: stronger checks of good agricultural practices on the farm (which have been available but not necessarily followed or enforced since 1998); more research on how dangerous bugs get on or in healthy produce; more vague press releases.?
The American economy is driven by competition and the produce sector should compete for the food dollar in grocery stores and restaurants across the country, using safety as a selling point. The farmers or company that uses the best science to keep poop off the plate matched with employee commitment through a strong food safety culture, will capture the imagination of a hungry public..
May the best food safety system win.? The diarrhea twins from Harold and Kumar will be first in line.