President Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack both seem interested in reforming America's food safety system. The President established the Food Safety Working Group more months ago, and Sec. Vilsack has pledged that he won't stop working on the issue until foodborne illnesses are reduced to zero. That's a big promise. But just in the past two weeks, there were two more massive Class 1 recalls for contaminated meat, with each encompassing more than a million pounds of product. "Class 1" means that eating the contaminated product could lead to death, or the kind of illness that has life-long and life-altering impact. But since Dec. 11, 2008, there has been no Under Secretary for Food Safety at USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, which oversee the safety of meat, poultry and eggs. (Sec. Vilsack, in photo)
For months, the CDC has been tracking an outbreak of Salmonella Montevideo, a grave intestinal disease, from contaminated meat. There have been more than 200 verified illnesses, some requiring hospitalization, in multiple states. Still, USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service did not issue a recall for the contaminated meat until late last night.
But pre-eminent Seattle food poisoning attorney Bill Marler, a private citizen, notified the public about the recall--and the illnesses--and the danger--before the USDA, on his Marlerblog.
Early yesterday, Marler wrote:
Since it is Friday, expect a recall tonight (or over the weekend) from FSIS on a meat-like product (Daniele Salami).
Marler then had an entire series of blog posts with recall information, state outbreak information, and product details. It's a grim situation when a private citizen is more on the ball than the federal agency that's supposed to be managing national food safety concerns (CDC's own e mail heads-up about the outbreak included no information, except that a product sold nationally was contaminated with Salmonella Montevideo). But Marler is more than a private citizen; he's a globally renowned food safety activist, and in fact he's been on the short list of candidates to lead FSIS. In July, Sec. Vilsack claimed "conflict of interest" problems in filling the Under Secretary post, but that claim doesn't hold water for Marler's candidacy. There's no conflict of interest--except that Marler might profoundly change food safety standards in the nation's meat supply. And that's a potentially big loss in profits for the meat industry, if suddenly money has to be spent on inspectors, pathogen testing, plant clean-ups, etc. And the meat industry is well aware of this. But in the end, a safer meat supply eliminates profits lost to recalls--and lawsuits. Yesterday, on Cattlenetwork, an online news source for meat concerns, writer Chuck Jolley did a recap of a new Marler lawsuit over E. coli beef contamination, and concluded his piece with:
Bottom line: Pay your food scientists now or pay Bill Marler later, and trust me, he’s a hell of a lot more expensive.
Marler should be Under Secretary for Food Safety, an idea your intrepid blogger--and many, many other people, including fellow food safety writers, policy analysts and public health experts, meat industry executives, and former FSIS head Richard Raymond have all been positing for months. Sec. Vilsack has been doing an admirable job running USDA at an incredibly tough time in the nation's history. He's involved in everything from his own anti-obesity campaign, to partnering with First Lady Michelle Obama on retooling school lunches, to Recovery initiatives, to rebuilding the Ag economy in Afghanistan, to building out rural infrastructure, to climate change, environmental conservation, and the energy economy. So Sec. Vilsack's failure to get help in food safety is nothing short of astonishing at this point. And if Marler is not named as head of FSIS, certainly there are other candidates willing to offer their services to Sec. Vilsack. Immediately.
As a side, annoying note, FSIS routinely issues Class 1 (you could die) recalls late on Friday nights, and this is an obvious attempt at avoiding media scrutiny. But it never works. Social media makes that impossible. So the eleventh-hour notification policy thus turns into one more bit of disdain for protecting public health. The recall should have been issued earlier in the week, so more people would have been aware of it.
Here are the details for the latest recall, and there's more information here, but clearly for the most timely information, Marlerblog should be consulted: 1,240,000 pounds of ready-to-eat (RTE) varieties of Italian sausage products have been recalled from Daniele International Inc., a Rhode Island processor. But as with all food recalls, this is "voluntary"--which means that Daniele is under no legal requirement to ensure that its tainted products get off store shelves, and out of connsumers' refrigerators. On their website, the company has a tiny little line on the bottom of the homepage, announcing the recall, which is easily missed. The recalled products:
- 10-ounce packages of "DANIELE NATURALE SALAME COATED WITH COARSE BLACK PEPPER."
- Catch weight packages of "DANIELE PEPPER SALAME."
- 9-ounce packages of "BLACK BEAR OF THE BLACK FOREST BABY GENOA PEPPER SALAME."
- 20-ounce packages of "DANIELE DELI SELECTION, GENOA SALAME, SMOKED SALAME, PEPPERED SALAME, RUSTIC SALAME."
- 340- and 454-gram packages of "DANIELE SURTIDO FINO ITALIANO, SALAMI GENOA CON PIMIENTA, LOMO CAPOCOLLO, SALAMI CALABRESE."
- 16-ounce packages of "DANIELE ITALIAN BRAND GOURMET PACK, HOT CALABRESE, PEPPER SALAME, HOT CAPOCOLLO."
- 8-ounce packages of "DIETZ & WATSON ARTISAN COLLECTION PARTY PLATTER PACK, HOT CALABRESE, PEPPER SALAME, HOT CAPOCOLLO."
- 8-ounce packages of "DANIELE ITALIAN BRAND GOURMET PACK, HOT CALABRESE, PEPPER SALAME, HOT CAPOCOLLO."
- 16-ounce packages of "DANIELE GOURMET COMBO PACK, PEPPER SALAME, CAPOCOLLO, CALABRESE."
- 500-gram packages of "DANIELE ITALIAN BRAND GOURMET PACK EMBALLAGE ASSORTI GOURMET ITALIEN, HOT CALABRESE, PEPPER SALAME, CALABRESE PIQUANT, SALAMI AU POIVRE, HOT CAPOCOLLO, CAPOCOLLO PIQUANT."
- 8-ounce packages of "BOAR'S HEAD BRAND ALL NATURAL SALAME COATED WITH COARSE BLACK PEPPER."
- Catch weight packages of "DIETZ & WATSON ARTISAN COLLECTION, BABY GENOA PEPPER SALAME, MADE WITH 100% PORK COATED WITH BLACK PEPPER AND PORK FAT."
- 20-ounce variety packages of "DANIELE DELI SELECTION, GENOA SALAME, SWEET SOPRESSATA, PEPPERED GENOA, MILANO SALAME."
- 21-ounce variety packages of "DANIELE GOURMET ITALIAN DELI SELECTION, SWEET SOPRESSATA SALAMI, PEPPERED GENOA SALAMI, HOT SOPRESSATA SALAMI, MILANO SALAMI, SALAMI SOPRESSATA DOUX, SALAMI GENOA POIVR�, SALAMI SOPRESSATA PIQUANT, SALAMI MILANO."
- 7-ounce packages of "DANIELE SALAME BITES PEPPER SALAME."
- 14-ounce packages of "DANIELE GOURMET ITALIAN DELI SELECTION ASSORTMENT DE FINES CHARCUTERIE ITALIENNE, SWEET SOPRESSATA SALAMI, MILANO SALAMI, SALAMI SOPRESSATA DOUX, SALAMI MILANO."
- Catch weight packages of "DANIELE NATURALE SALAME COATED WITH COARSE BLACK PEPPER."
- 32-ounce variety packages of "DANIELE DELI SELECTION, GENOA SALAME, SWEET SOPRESSATA, PEPPERED GENOA, MILANO SALAME."