Uncertainty and Food Safety Investigations - Part II

2 minute read
12 December 2011


This article was originally published in the November/December 2011 issue of Food in Canada and is republished with the permission of the publisher.

Our summary last month of the largest foodborne illness outbreak of the last decade in the U.S. (Salmonella in green peppers) and in Europe (E.coli in organic sprouts), demonstrated the diabolical complexity faced by food safety regulators when they carry out investigations characterized by deep factual and scientific uncertainty.

In both cases, investigators were dealing with rare strains of pathogens, and traceability was complicated by the fact that the source was unpackaged vegetables - without barcodes or lot numbers - that were quickly consumed, often with other produce. Microbiological testing proved quite unhelpful so investigators had to rely primarily on epidemiology. Pressed for "results," both cases had regulators initially jumping to the wrong conclusions, destroying in their wake the livelihood of many innocent people and seriously undermining the credibility of government food safety regulators. Both cases prove the "Iron Law of Food Safety Outbreak Investigations"- after the fact academics and the media will criticize government regulators either for overreacting or under-reacting.

Read the full article - Uncertainty and Food Safety Investigations - Part II

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