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It's Not Salmonella on Tomatoes....It's No Brain at the FDA

It's Not Salmonella on Tomatoes....It's No Brain at the FDA
I want to be a government bureaucrat. Where else can you be so incompetent without any repercussions?
Take the ongoing saga surrounding the salmonella outbreak, where nearly 1,000 people have been sickened in 36 states. The Food and Drug Administration, in its infinite wisdom, has reassured the public about how to protect themselves. Key to that advice is what types of tomatoes to avoid, and which ones are acceptable for consumption. Sounds great, except for one small problem.
They have no idea where the salmonella originated, and, in fact, have no evidence that tainted tomatoes are the source of the salmonella at all.
Since the food pipeline is a matter of national security, the industry should be mandated to bring its record keeping methods into the 21st century, as written logs are currently more prevalent than computer databases. But however frustrating the lack of technology is throughout the industry, it is a rectifiable issue and will be solved in time.
What is inexcusable, though, is the political double-speak, if not outright lies, from government officials in whom we place a tremendous amount of trust. Have these people not learned the lessons from numerous failings in the handling of past crises? Have they never read "The Boy Who Cried Wolf"? Do they not understand that when a huge food-related epidemic actually does hit us, their words and counsel will carry no weight?
Obviously not.
I am neither a food scientist nor a toxicologist, but I know enough to spot a huge inconsistency in food-borne illness rhetoric when I see one.
Here's the $64,000 question: How can the FDA tell the public that it "recommends consuming raw red plum, raw red Roma, or raw red round tomatoes only if grown and harvested from ... areas that HAVE NOT BEEN ASSOCIATED WITH THE OUTBREAK," when, in the next breath, it states that it doesn't know where the tainted tomatoes originated, and isn't sure that tomatoes are the carrier of the salmonella in the first place? By the way, the list of places that grow "acceptable" tomatoes includes 42 states, Canada, parts of Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Puerto Rico, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Israel.
The FDA's brain trust takes their message a step further, recommending "retailers, restaurateurs, and food service operators continue to offer cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, and tomatoes sold with the vine still attached, from any source." Again, I know I'm being a stickler, but how do you say one type is harmless and another should be avoided when the source is still not known?
These people 52 cards short of a deck.
But don't take my word for it. David Acheson, associate commissioner for foods with the Food and Drug Administration, stated that, despite all the investigations being conducted, "the trail may go cold." He added that "The longer this goes on, the less likely it's all originating from a single farm source."
So instead of actually being honest with people and admitting the inherent difficulties in pinpointing the source of the salmonella, let's just scare the nation and destroy an entire food industry with hype and baseless speculation. To back up that point, it is interesting to note how many of the 1700 domestic and international tomato samples have tested positive for salmonella.
None. Nada. Zip.
Failing to find an answer, what's next for the fearless FDA? Will it move on to the next haphazardly chosen food source to decimate another industry? Wouldn't be surprising.
Look no further than the E. coli outbreak in several Taco Bells last year. First it was green onions, then it was lettuce, then it was...actually, neither the FDA, the USDA, nor Taco Bell ever found out what the culprit was in those cases. But after wreaking havoc upon each of those industries, with no proof that those foods were ever tainted with e coli, they, along with Taco Bell, declared that all was well and it was safe to eat everything again.
Maybe the FDA should look to history for pointers, such as how Johnson & Johnson handled the Tylenol crisis in 1982. They were aggressive, honest, and forthright in how they dealt with the situation, and their efforts paid mammoth dividends as they saved, and indeed improved, the Tylenol brand. A true masterpiece of crisis management.
If the FDA wants to improve its already battered image and salvage whatever credibility might be left, it needs to stop its scorched earth policies which destroy livelihoods and needlessly frighten a nation.
Perhaps an efficacy study on common sense would be a good starting point.
Chris Freind is an independent columnist and commentator. He can   be reached at

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