By Saad Anjum

The CDC in collaboration with the US FDA launched an ongoing investigation into the multistate outbreak of hepatitis A infections. As of July 3rd, the CDC reports that 140 people across eight states have been infected with hepatitis A after eating Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend sold by Townsend Farms, Inc. of Fairview, Oregon. The CDC has linked the infection of the product to pomegranate seeds from the Anatolian region of Turkey. In response, the FDA is currently working with the firms that distributed the seeds in order to mitigate the infection and ensure all recipients are aware of the contamination. This incident highlights the truly global nature of the challenges faced in ensuring food safety.

Hepatitis A is a viral infection that often occurs in humans as a result of improper hygiene in food preparation, with disease outbreaks spreading among people that eat or handle the contaminated food.

The FDA does not inspect all food imports but rather hires third party auditors to help inspect foreign producers and their imports. The third party auditors are responsible for screening every detail of the process taken to provide the produce. In some cases, the third party auditors make mistakes. There was the highly publicized instance in 2011, where an auditor approved a cantaloupe-packing facility as it shipped out melons contaminated with listeria resulting in several deaths.

Who is to blame: the people that packaged the food? The corporations responsible for screening the food? The FDA? Perhaps, the answer is that all are to blame—the food industry as a whole has obligations to ensure the delivery of safe foods to consumers. The challenges faced in moving food safely through production to the table will continue to increasingly involve both players around the global in addition to requiring strict compliance to safety standards at the most local level.

So, in pork production, for example, Shuanghui International, one of China’s meat processors, acquired Smithfield Foods, one of the biggest and oldest pork producers in the United States. There are stirring concerns over China’s food safety track record and this acquisition leading to more incidents.

Efforts to ensure food safety for imports will be useless if the food is improperly handled at a local level. Joining what seems to be a growing trend, a video that recently went viral shows unsanitary working conditions at a restaurant. Employee Brandon Huber posted a video on YouTube that showed raw meat left next to dumpsters in the back of a Golden Corral in Florida. He posted a second video, claiming the meat stored next to the dumpsters was served to customers. Golden Corral has disputed the claims, but photos from other Golden Corrals are surfacing raising doubts about the veracity of the corporation’s claims. Golden Corral is, of course, just one recent restaurant disaster among many.

Over the last few years, the FDA has been expanding its capacity to regulate the third party auditors that approve imports and proposing more regulations for food safety. In today’s interconnected world, heightened awareness and better care for food safety is very welcome. Consumers should remember that lapses can impact safety all the way from the farm to the table.

Saad Anjum is a undergraduate bioethics intern at the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics and a writing seminars major at Johns Hopkins University

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Alan Regenberg
Saad Anjum

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