From Colorado to Your Stomach: Cantaloupe Listeria Outbreak Unveils Traceability Holes

cantaloupe_3_attPhoto (CC) via News21-usaDo you know how many stops your food made before you bought it at the grocery store? The Listeria outbreak tied to cantaloupe is another example of how our food system allows for tainted product from one farm to quickly result in a nation-wide crisis. The tainted crop has been linked to at least 84 illnesses and 17 deaths in 19 states.

According to the Associated Press, it may take four or five stops for a Colorado cantaloupe to get to your plate:

There's the packing house where it is cleaned and packaged, then the distributor who contracts with retailers to sell the melons in large quantities. A processor may cut or bag the fruit. The retail distribution center is where the melons are sent out to various stores. Finally it's stacked on display at the grocery store. 

And that doesn't include the additional steps that imported cantaloupe makes, but that's another story.

Jensen Farms, the Colorado cantaloupe producer, named 28 states where it shipped the fruit … but people in other states have reported getting sick. The melons were sold and resold to retailers, unbeknownst to the farm where they originated.

Such traceability concerns along the supply chain were illustrated in an August op-ed authored by FIC Director Amanda Hitt, who highlighted the importance of food transportation workers as whistleblowers. People often disregard the employees on the front-lines who could help prevent further spread of tainted food.

The Food Safety Modernization Act (which provides whistleblower protections for those reporting FDA violations) aims to better track the path from farm to fork, though the legislation has yet to receive proper funding for implementation. In the meantime, outbreaks continue at the expense of consumers' lives.

We clearly have a long way to go before adequate transparency exists in the food system.

Sarah Damian is New Media Associate for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower advocacy organization.


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