Peter O’driscoll, director of the Washington-based Equitable Food Initiative at Oxfam America, writes in this letter to The New York Times regarding, “Protect Those Who Protect Our Food” (Op-Ed, Nov. 13), to say that Jacob E. Gersen and Benjamin I. Sachs make an excellent point about the importance of worker training and benefits to prevent foodborne illness: Food safety starts at the hands of the workers who harvest and prepare what we eat. But in addition to regulations to protect workers and the food supply, we need a fresh, collaborative approach to the challenge.
Forward-thinking companies like Costco Wholesale and Bon Appétit Management have joined forces with growers, farmworker unions and consumer groups to develop a new certification program that incentivizes workers in the produce industry to make food safety a priority at the point of harvest.
This multi-stakeholder strategy is good for consumers, companies and workers alike, and could well be applied to the other high-risk sectors of the food economy that Mr. Gersen and Mr. Sachs identify.
Ellen K. Silbergeld, a professor of environmental health sciences at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health in Maryland, writes that Gersen and Sachs perpetuate the idea that workers are responsible for much of the burden of foodborne illness in the United States.
Workers are part of a chain of pathogen transmission that begins on farms (both crop and livestock); moves into slaughter and processing plants where little is done to reduce pathogen carriage on animals, carcasses and products; and then moves finally to wholesale and consumer markets. During this process, after the so-called hazard control point, workers are exposed to these pathogens as they make our food.
Research by us and others demonstrates that worker safety and food safety are inextricably related. The fragmentation of authority among the Agriculture Department, the Food and Drug Administration and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, along with recent regulatory changes in oversight, obscure the real origins of these risks as well as opportunities to control them.