The deadly outbreak of
American health officials report that so far there is no evidence that the rare strain of E. coli found in Germany has entered the United States food system. E. coli can be found in human and animal feces, and it spreads to vegetables via animal waste in fields and irrigation water, or from farm workers' poor hand-washing. German health authorities have recommended against eating raw lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and sprouts — particularly in the northern states of Germany: Hamburg, Bremen, Lower Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein. The lack of an outbreak in America is somewhat reassuring. It would be even more so if we had a good federal program for detecting E. coli in produce.
Congress voted last winter to establish just such a program as part of a comprehensive modernization of our food safety system. Yet the budget moving through the
The Obama administration wants $955 million to go for food safety at the
In addition to better E. coli detection, the new food safety bill included programs that would set up procedures to quickly track the source of an outbreak. Finding the source has proven difficult in Germany. Initially, cucumbers grown in
The United States has experienced similar problems. A 2008 salmonella outbreak that eventually was traced to tainted peppers at first was incorrectly attributed to tomatoes, which angered tomato growers. What these incidents show is that developing better back tracking procedures is an area of food safety that needs more, not less, funding.