Fit to Eat: (Shocking) News from the Food World

ColumnWhile the latest food safety stories are shocking, there are solutions.

Once a month, The Green Plate harvests the most interesting, biggest, weirdest, and puzzling recent news stories on food politics, the food industry, eating trends, and edible discoveries from around the web, and shares them with you.

This month, intentionally mismarked Chinese honey contaminated with heavy metals and illegal antibiotics is being shipped to the U.S. through India, preventing the U.S. from collecting tariffs and endangering your health, yet the FDA doesn’t want to inspect the honey entering the country. What gives? The country’s latest food poisoning outbreak has killed one person and sickened many others, resulting in the slow-speed recall of 36 million pounds of turkey due to its contamination by antibiotic resistant salmonella. The worst spin on this, and what’s perhaps most distributing, is turkey contaminated with salmonella isn’t even illegal. Find out how the current resurgence in co-op grocery stores is helping more Americans take charge of what they eat.

Stir a little lead into your tea

The best argument I’ve ever read for buying honey from a local, trusted producer (no matter the cost) is this incredibly well-researched piece in Food Safety News. The report revealed, among other things, that millions of pounds of honey that has been officially banned by the 27 countries of the European Union has entered the United States to be packed by large packers and sold to unsuspected consumers under familiar brand names. Much of this honey is contaminated and much more of it is so adulterated, it’s not even honey anymore. The FDA checks few of the thousands of shipments arriving through 22 American ports each year, because then they’d have to actually test the honey for antibiotics, heavy metals and adulteration, something they, according to an anonymous FDA source, do not want to do.  Since a lot of the honey purchased by large packers is used in processed food and food service applications, check the ingredients of anything you buy. Some very common food items that you might think of as healthy could very likely contain tainted honey.

Lettuce? Tomato? Biohazard?

Last week’s recall of ground turkey proved that, even in the convoluted world of food politics, there’s still room for surprise. The USDA has the power to promote the safety of the nation’s meat supply through testing. However, USDA rules allow 49.9 percent of tested samples of ground turkey to be contaminated with salmonella. When the contamination rate is high enough to warrant action, however, the USDA lacks the power to do anything about it. This is because the agency in charge of mandatory recalls of the sort issued last week is the FDA, not the USDA.  This may partially explain why it took until last week to issue a recall, even though illnesses linked to the turkey were reported starting in March. Apparently, it’s not even illegal to distribute turkey contaminated with salmonella because its presence is so common in food. Consumers Union is calling for the government to classify salmonella as an adulterant and to give the USDA recall power.

Power to the People

Consumers are increasingly taking the responsibility for ensuring the safety of their food into their own hands. Member owned co-ops are on the rise, with roughly 10-12 new stores opening each year and around 250 currently in development. Besides food safety, other drivers include a desire to support local farmers, a desire to shop in bulk to save money and packaging, and a craving for community.

This is the latest installment in Vanessa Barrington’s weekly column, The Green Plate on the environmental, social, and political issues related to what and how we eat.

Image: Altemark, JoelK75, muffet

Vanessa Barrington

Vanessa Barrington is a San Francisco based writer and communications consultant specializing in environmental, social, and political issues in the food system.