We’ve all heard about the latest food recall having to do with contaminated eggs. When you hear word of this news do you feel confident in the manner in which the US processes food? What about the process for a food recall? The fact that you hear about a recall at all, does that make you feel safe? Do you feel that government bodies are protecting us as consumers?
My intention is not to intimidate or scare you into a state of paranoia. The latest recall is a chance for us to review the facts and to educate us all on how to take control in our own kitchens.
Firstly, the US Census Bureau estimates the current United States population to be at 310 million. To put this into perspective, the Census in 1970 declared there to be 203 million in the population. In a historically speaking, very short amount of time, we increased our local population by over 100 million (through births and migration). Can you imagine what it takes to support a population of that size? The advancements in farming, technology, pasteurization, sterilization, use of pesticides and food distribution have to be massive to meet this demand.
One could assume that there is a strong work force in the fields and farms providing us the quantity of produce we need. However, in 1900, 38% of the labor work force were farmers. In 1990 only 2.6% of the populations work force was in the farming industry. This means that the majority of people who fill our tables nightly don’t come from the fields but rather from the processing plant and distribution chain.
This is why, in this country, we have the relationship with food that we do. We have lost the appreciation for growing, cultivating and handling food. Children don’t understand the origin of what they eat. As a nation we buy food on sale with coupons! Where else in the world does this happen?
Concurrently, we are at a point in our society where two events are occurring. Proudly, the participation in farmers markets are on the rise by 26%. We are slowly understanding that building a relationship with the person who grew our food creates harmony in our lives. Tasting a strawberry directly from the farm rather than one trucked from Mexico, picked early, sprayed with color and packaged in plastic, actually makes us feel good! At the market we stock up with fresh not packaged. That small act leads to a domino of wise decisions which ultimately reduce heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer and many other diseases. Good for us!
Unfortunately, the other side is quite grim. As a nation we consume more than is needed to properly survive. That is obvious. But did you know that out of a country of over 300 million we slaughter over 10 billion animals each year? This mass quantity matched with record profits for companies equals poor working conditions, severe animal abuse and a health risk to the country.
So who regulates this process? Officially it’s the job of the FDA. Unofficially, with the problems I mentioned above and with food production companies declaring record sales, then no one really is.
Here’s the deal with the FDA. According to the web site of the FDA this is their responsibility to the public:
“The FDA is responsible for protecting the public health by assuring the safety, efficacy, and security of human and veterinary drugs, biological products, medical devices, our nation’s food supply, cosmetics, and products that emit radiation.”
This egg recall opens our eyes as a nation because we feed and nurture our children and ourselves on a daily basis with this ingredient. The numbers of sickness is only at 2,000 (nationwide) out of an ever growing recall total of 1 billion eggs. But this one product effects us all, the media can turn this into a big story. So, for our education advantage let’s follow the path and put it into perspective.
Here are some facts that will shock you:
* Though the recall of eggs began last week did you know that “effected” eggs date back to April?? So, most of the recalled product has already been consumed.
*The first recall went to 350 million eggs in 7 states. Ever changing it is now at 12 states and 1 billion eggs. How is it acceptable that these statistics keep changing?
*Did you know that in the month of August there was also a recall for frozen ground beef, frozen meatballs, pistachios, alfalfa sprouts, soy, dates, frozen fruit pops, low carb tortillas and as of this morning Walmart Deli Meats?? This doesn’t even cover the recall on pet food and herbal supplements. I actually use some of these products more often than I use eggs. Where was the massive news story on this? But the only way I hear about this is by checking the FDA recall page weekly.
So what is going on with the FDA? Every news media outlet has their focus on the involvement of the FDA. Even the Commissioner, Dr. Margaret Hamburg, was on Good Morning America the other day saying that the source of contamination was “unclear”, that the rate of recall “could change” and that the FDA is “underfunded”.
It’s easy now a days to get angry at a government agency that should be protecting us. But, here is the path that a food borne illness hits the national news:
*Item is consumed.
*Person becomes ill. Small percentage actually go to the doctor immediately. Most of us take an uneducated guess on what made us ill and when.
*The small amount of cases that report to a doctor or hospital have to undergo specific tests to narrow the cause.
*Tests from all over the country get reported to the CDC in Atlanta.
* The CDC looks for patterns or emerging volume cases. Obviously, this takes time to build as the only statistical data to compare the present to is “current history”.
*When a spike or trend appears, data is analyzed for commonalities.
*The FDA is informed and data is continued to be analyzed before a “recall” is in effect.
*The manufacturer is informed.
* A “voluntary” recall is issued. This doesn’t mean that the company offers to sacrifice lost profits and create an unsavory PR situation by offering the public a chance to return items. “Voluntary” by government standards means that a negotiation between the company and the safety aspect of the government has been reached. There is not a “voluntary” and a “mandatory” level in a recall.
*All the lines of distribution are communicated to. The farm to the main distributor to the state distributor to the independent store operator.
The main point is that all of this takes time. That is why this egg recall is a pivitol chance to understand the process. Although we think there are entities watching over everything we consume the fact is that they do not have the capacity. The FDA functions in a reactive capacity, not a proactive one. They admit to this.
Hopefully by now you feel a bit more empowered with this information. For myself, after years of doing this research I found myself asking this question last week with the latest recall:
“With an item so perishable as an egg: How can one chicken in Iowa provide an egg for myself in California and someone else in New York?”
Is this not what the main problem is with this entire situation? What we consume, be it plant based or animal based, is made from energy and is highly perishable.
I hope you asked yourself the same question. Because the fact that we can accomplish the statement above, just is not right. There are two basic solutions that bring us back to our roots:
1) Consume fewer animal products. There is an entire food revolution occuring in our back yard as well as within the National media. Meatless Mondays are a major contributing factor. The millions of voices speaking on behalf of the 10 billion animals slaughtered. (On a side note: on the media coverage regarding the egg outbreak, they have been showing undercover video taken within the Iowa farm. It is shocking and truly disturbing animal cruelty. You should consider going vegan…if only for a minute at least consider it). Vegan and vegetarian restaurants are on a huge rise. Vegan products are now being carried in national supermarket chains. Even meat, pig and cheese happy celebrity chef’s such as Mario Batali are actually writing vegetarian cookbooks. I never though I’d live to see that.
2) Stay Local!!! Yes, recalls are done on non-meat items as well. Remember the spinach recall (twice), strawberries and more? All attributed to unhygenic practices done on massive farming scales. As mentioned before, farmers markets are ever growing. That means that availability to local and fresh products are at our doorstep. I personally work unconventional hours so a market on a Saturday morning never quite did it for me. But now I have access to Tuesday mid-day markets, Thursday evening markets, and at least one is guaranteed on my day off.
In the end, the cause and effect relationship between a recall is the same as the food that is produced. If, as a nation, our demand for cheap, mass-produced food items from the other side of the country increase, then so will our need to be more constantly aware of our health risks. Browse the informational sites below. Stay informed and stay close to the source of your food production.
Note: I have been analyzing this information through scientific journals for many years. I tired my best to compile that information in a way that won’t put you to sleep with charts and graphs. However, I encourage you to research to a level you feel comfortable. Here are some basic and not-so-basic references:
FDA Safety Web Site: browse for their purpose, intention, responsibility and current recall list. A wealth of information!
Center for Disease Control: More info!
US Department of Health and Services: A great resource for the nations heath alerts from food to immunizations.
USDA Food Safety: Lists recalls but not to the thoroughness as the FDA
Consumer Reports: the definition of “voluntary” recalls.
Global Production Statistics: If you want to be scared on how much this world consumes and will continue to, check this out.
All recipes © Laura Dove