In the wake of the United States' largest meat recall last month, a Pennsylvania family recently sat down to a dinner of frozen fish only to bite into their fillets and find pills. The pills turned out to be dietary supplement pills, prompting another food recall in 11 states, including Oklahoma — this time for Gorton's 6 Crispy Battered Fish Fillets.
When Peter Pan and Great Value peanut butters were recalled in February 2007, 288 cases of food-borne illness in 39 states had been reported, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Affected jars of the peanut butter were alleged to have been contaminated with salmonella.
The stream of food recalls brings up questions about the safety of the country's food supply. How can you be certain that the food you prepare for your family will not make them ill?
When your children sit down to dinner, how can you be sure they are not in potential danger of ingesting salmonella, E. coli or even unexpected dietary supplements?
Companies including Stillwater-based FoodProtech are working to keep the food supply safe and eliminate contamination that causes food-borne illnesses and product spoilage, such as bacterial contamination caused by raw hamburger served at fast-food restaurants. The company tests food samples, researches food companies' products and provides training and audits.
"Fluke things happen, like when you're working over a mixing bowl in your kitchen and something falls out of your pocket into the food,” said Siobhan Reilly, food microbiologist and president of FoodProtech. "But most companies have plans in place for prevention actions, such as required hairnets, no jewelry, no shirts with pockets and regular hand-washing.”
Many companies also have early detection processes, she said, such as metal detectors, should metal from food processing equipment fall into food. But there is no foolproof method to ensure that a fluke will not occur, especially when the source of contamination is deliberate human intervention during packaging.
For product recalls, the general course of action by the FDA is to investigate what went wrong and whether it was accidental or intentional, as is currently being done in the Gorton's fish recall. Brad A. Swezey, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said he believes the recall is due to "suspected tampering.”
Many experts, including Jack Carson, a state Agriculture, Food and Forestry Department spokesman, insist the inspection process and operating rules for food processing plants are better in the U.