To me, our current food safety scandal continues to truly highlight one ginormous but shockingly semi-ignored problem with our food system. Centralization. The FDA is looking at processing plants because that is where contamination on this level is spread from an initial half a dozen hens on a couple farms in Iowa to millions of eggs in a very short time.
What are some solutions?
The media and FDA are pushing pasteurization and regulation. While pasteurization is great idea if you’re planning to use raw eggs and are immunocompromised (pregnant, certain medications, very young, very old), depending on an additional energy-consuming technology should not be our goal as we develop a sustainable food system. The technology treadmill much of what landed us in this mess– time to stop running and start walking.
Following good farming and distribution practices is absolutely essential. Good animal health, clean surroundings, clean food, and proper attention to your flock and workers need to be the beginning. Proper cleaning of transportation, processing and collection equipment continue the good practices. Testing, proper records, and training rounds out a few common-sense practices. Regulation can enforce good practices– but at a high cost if sufficient funding is provided to do a semi-decent job.
But, in the end, we must decentralize our food system and eliminate these highly intensive concentrated animal farming operations. The high density of animals contributes to the spread of all types of disease, requires excessive use of drugs, contaminated the environment, and does not produce healthy food. Furthermore, the operations themselves become reservoirs for harmful pathogens. Wild animals, wind and streams carry the bad bugs to other area farms and contribute to the contamination of other food. Eliminating these problems should be our goal.
While smaller farms and processing plants can also distribute contaminated food, the risk of high volumes of food becoming contaminated from a few dirty eggs or a few dirty lettuce plants is lower if good, conscientious procedures are followed. The environmental and social impacts profiles are also improved– honestly, what more could you want?
(More information: http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm223248.htm)