Recently, an E. coli outbreak sickened dozens of people in eleven states, causing the shut-down of forty-three locations of a major restaurant chain. Around the same time, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a nationwide recall of approximately 167,427 pounds of ground beef products for suspected E. coli contamination. Rampant fear spanned across the country, causing paranoia and anxiety among millions.
In today’s well-established, streamlined food processing and distribution industry, how do E. coli and other food-borne pathogens enter and spread in our food chains? What can we do to help improve food safety? With these questions in mind, I visited a large factory farm and a food processing center here in California. After some open-minded talks with the workers, I found some interesting facts which reveal vulnerabilities in the existing commercial food chain.
To seek solutions to the above problems, we must look at the root of the problems. The truth of the matter is that today’s food industry aims at processing and distributing the largest possible amount of food with the least possible cost during the shortest possible period of time—all to maximize commercial profits. As a result, profit-driven entities at all levels of the food chain tend to ignore sanitary conditions and hygienic food-handling procedures—all to maximize commercial profits.
But we do not have to accept the status quo. We can strike a balance between mass production and clean processing; between commercial profits and safe food. It requires asking ourselves some serious questions: Are there ways to prevent the spread of bacteria from the source? Are there procedures to decrease contamination at food processing and distribution facilities? Are there mechanisms to enforce food safety regulations? Are we ready to make a change? If we consider these questions in a responsible way and act accordingly, we can make a difference—for our own good.