Food Safety 101

Two headline stories from the USA on food safety caught my eye today: `Georgia Peanut Plant Knowingly Shipped Contaminated Peanuts’; `Study Links Corn Syrup to Toxic Mercury.’

1. The FDA has issued one of the largest food recalls in history after eight people died of salmonella poisoning. A Georgia peanut plant knowingly shipped products contaminated with salmonella on a dozen occasions over the past two years. There are 40,000  cases of salmonella reported by people in the USA every year, many more go unreported, and it kills 600!

2. And a pair of new studies has revealed traces of toxic mercury can be found in many popular food items containing high-fructose corn syrup. The sweetener has become a widely used substitute for sugar in processed foods, including many items marketed toward children. To listen to/watch/read the report, go to:

Meanwhile, back at home in Canada, we’ve had our share of problems this year. In September 2008, Maple Leaf Foods, Canada’s largest meat processor, contributed a serious outbreak of Listeriosis in their deli-style products which killed, oh, about 20 people. This outbreak, in a country that has recently made substantial investments in food inspection, occurred at one of the Federally licensed and inspected facilities. Recently, we have been victim to E. coli-tainted spinach from the U.S.; cantaloupes from Costa Rica contaminated with salmonella; pet food and infant formula both containing a toxic chemical imported from China; and the latest, a recall on Black Diamond Cheese slices which are purported to contain small bits of plastic mesh. This week,  the  Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and Hygaard Fine Foods EST 318 are warning the public not to consume certain Hygaard brand sandwich products described below because they may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. These products have been distributed in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Northwest Territories, and Ontario. Anything containing peanut butter (Chocolate Dipped Honey Peanut IsaLean Bar, granola bars with peanut butter flavouring, and a host of others) has also been recalled because of the risk of salmonella from the tainted peanut butter. In addition, Les Cultures de Chez Nous Inc. brand sliced, washed leeks and S. Bourassa (St-Sauveur) sliced leeks may be contaminated with listeria monocytogenes. Those are just some of the public safety warnings that the CFIA issued THIS WEEK!

Food imports increased 21.5 per cent from 1996 to 2006. Federal health officials say they’re becoming more and more worried about the fact fresh fruits and vegetables shipped to Canada from other countries, including those with lower safety standards, are making up an increasingly large proportion of cases of food-borne illness. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) inspects less than 10 per cent of imported shipments of low-risk products, which includes a majority of fresh produce that comes into Canada. The CFIA doesn’t scrutinize products based on the country of origin, but instead looks more closely at high-risk food products, so a major portion of the food Canadians eat will never be inspected by the federal government before it goes on store shelves. One article I read said, “As the number of outbreaks and illnesses linked to foreign food continues to mount and an increasing proportion of the Canadian diet is made up of food imported from other countries, there are serious questions about whether food growers and sellers, as well as the government, are doing enough to keep what Canadians eat safe.” Is it really reasonable that we should rely not only on our government to regulate safety, but also that the foreign growers will ascribe to our (so called) standards?

All this raises serious questions about the security of Canada’s food supply. Why are we importing lousy food and exporting our high quality food? Why are we allowing low quality foreign food onto our store shelves, all the while developing more and more prohibitive legislation that paralyzes our local food producers under the guise of public health and safety?

Ironically, the very food that we could have some influence over, we are busy making it more and more difficult for farmers to produce and  our fellow citizens to access! One would think that such a rise in the number of cases involving food-borne illnesses would create a strong public desire to change the food production and distribution system. Unfortunately, a desire for change won’t come until the masses realize that the government cannot ensure food safety: local farmers, in concert with the watchful eye of their customers, can.


Filed under Educational, Ethical farming, Food Sovereignty, Learning to Farm, Locavore, personal food sovereignty, Politics of Food, Sustainable Farming

7 responses to “Food Safety 101

  1. With all the talk of NAIS in the US right now, and the huge recall … well, as you point out, it’s a big mess. Excellent post and wonderful information.

  2. You know, the Saanich peninsula is a lovely place to farm. Pretty sure bee keeping was on your list?

    On second thought, I’d like you to move in right next door to me and I’ll buy all my food from you….forever and ever.

  3. suburbanbushwacker

    Yep, same here.
    Our last bird flu outbreak was caused in the same way, big business doesn’t care and the regulator is asleep at the wheel.
    Where have I heard that before?

  4. LittleFfarm Dairy

    Alas, it’s the same here in the UK, too. And whilst shoppers prefer to turn a blind eye to where their food comes from purely because the supermarket offerings are cheap, I can’t see it changing any time soon. It’s so sad.

  5. Your topic is one of the reasons I buy as locally as possible. I support someone trying to make a living and eat the best food I’ve ever eaten.

  6. LittleFfarm Dairy

    BTW I loved that comment about “pushing a peanut uphill with your nose” – it had me chuckling all afternoon!

  7. Bernie Bailey

    Just a little tid-bit from the guy that owned the last legal processing dairy in western Ontario and second last in all of south western Ontario. I was forced out of business by a corrupted marketing system in favor of global players (please read articles in the bovine. wordpress or Google Bernie Bailey). A lot of the one hundred farmers that shipped into my dairy new me on a first name basis and knew where their products were sold, now it goes in a big truck and they have no idea where to from that point on. The big three dairies in Canada buy cheap imported milk solids from other countries and label it Canadian cheese (and I am sure this practice is wide spread in the food industry); lowest cost, largest margins and false labeling–welcome to globalization. But the marketing board cannot control the global players that they have crawled into bed with and probably wish that they had local dairies to sell to, instead they have to announce that another thousand farms will disappear in Ontario over the next two years because of slumping sales; but this time around, instead of the board forcing out farmers the way they did with all small dairies, the global players are dictating to the government and marketing boards who have become useless in this economic run a way train. Having said all that, I was not against globalization until I realized that all it means is job lost in Canada because our civil servants who are suppose to look out for our interests are there to secure their own pension and no one else. Still one vote…

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