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Food safety concerns apply to local, organic items, too

Government regulators often have no contact with local farms because of tight budgets and exemptions in food safety laws.
By MARY CLARE JALONICK Published: October 26, 2011

Christine Bushway of the Organic Trade Association, which represents large and small producers, says food safety comes down to proper operation of a farm or food company, not its scale.

Local advantages

Smaller farms have some food safety advantages. Owners have more control over what they are producing and often do not ship as far, lessening chances for contamination in transport. If the farm is organic, an inspector will have to visit and may report to authorities if they see food being produced in an unsafe way.

But those checks aren't fail-safe. The FDA has reported at least 20 recalls due to pathogens in organic food in the last two years, while the Agriculture Department, which oversees meat safety, issued a recall of more than 34,000 pounds of organic beef last December.

Egg safety is equally ambiguous. While many like to buy cage-free eggs, those chickens may be exposed to bacteria on the ground.

So what can a consumer do? Experts say to follow the traditional rules, no matter what the variety of food. Cook foods like eggs and meat, and make sure you are scrubbing fruit and cleaning your kitchen well.

Do your part, and hope for the best, experts say.

Also ...

New law exempts some farms

A new food safety law President Barack Obama signed earlier this year exempts some small farms as a result of farmers and local food advocates complaining that creating costly food safety plans could cause some small businesses to go bankrupt. The exemption covers farms of a certain size that sell within a limited distance of their operation. Food safety advocates unsuccessfully lobbied against the provision, as did the organic industry.


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