FDA gives advice on fresh produce

Bags of salad greens

KAI RYSSDAL: We've got salmonella in our peanut butter, as you might have heard. More of it than we thought apparently. Today the Food and Drug Administration extended its recall of the questionable spread back to 2004. Not too long ago it was e.coli in our spinach. Every now and then it's more e.coli at hamburger restaurants. It's enough to make you really worry about the food on your plate.

So today, after the peanut butter recall, the Food and Drug Administration decided to do something about it. Helen Palmer reports from the Marketplace Health Desk at WGBH.


HELEN PALMER: The FDA issued final safety guidelines today for fresh-cut produce — those bags of salad and baby carrots.

But the agency's director of food defense, David Acheson, said the new guidelines aren't exactly the scientific solution to food borne-illness.

DAVID ACHESON: There is a real need to better understand how these bugs get onto food and how to prevent them. We don't have all those answers.

In the meantime, Acheson said the guidelines are the best the agency can do. They build on regulations for growers that date back a decade, and add details about personnel hygiene, training, buildings and processing controls.

The United Fresh Produce Association's David Gombas said the FDA incorporated his members' ideas in the new document.

DAVID GOMBAS: Because the fresh-cut products are consumed raw, the opportunity for contamination has to be controlled that much more closely. And that's really what the benfefit of this document is.

Gombas thinks the only added costs will be in documenting produce more closely from field to retail shelf.

The Grocery Manufacturers agree. Their food safety officer, Jenny Scott, says the new guidelines won't prove too onerous.

JENNY SCOTT: This is a voluntary guidance document. There are no regulatory requirements that these have to be implemented.

That's precisely the problem. Michael Hansen of Consumers Union says the new rules need some teeth.

MICHAEL HANSEN: Make these things mandatory requirements not voluntary, have effective trace-back, third-party audits, and then rigorous inspection.

But the food processers say safety has always been their top priority. It's in their best interest — they say the recent tainted spinach outbreak cost them an estimated $100 million.

In Boston, I'm Helen Palmer for Marketplace.

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