Saturday, November 17, 2012


As per the recommendations of nutrition experts, in order to maintain a good health one must eat large quantities of fruits and vegetables which supply many micro nutrients besides dietary fiber. This has created an opportunity to the fresh produce industry to offer fresh salad preparations in super markets which boast of tremendous convenience to the consumer. Preparing fresh vegetables for making salads is an involved process requiring time and lot of care which most modern families do not have and this situation has led to massive patronage of "Bagged Salads", ready to be consumed on the dining table or at any time. However countless recalls of salad products made by reputed manufacturers  due to suspected contamination with pathogenic bacteria during the last few years have literally created a panic in the American market with more and more consumers hesitating to buy them due to fear of contamination by virulent E.coli and similar disease causing bacteria. If such fears are not removed from the minds of consumers, there may be a possibility of significant reduction of intake of these health protecting foods in that country. Here is a take on this unfortunate development.

"Bagged salad is easy to open, great on a hot summer day and a super easy dinner. Is it safe to eat? Let's see what the experts say. I eat bagged salad and unless I am reporting a bagged salad recall will buy the Dole and Fresh Express products. I am careful and if there is a bagged salad recall, I check what's in my frig. This week, Fresh Express had a recall of 8,000 cases  of Hearts of Romaine. I have Fresh Express at home but it's Iceberg Lettuce. Apparently, I am not alone, a contributor of US Food Safety, Doug Powell, a professor of food safety at  Kansas State University, was quoted on, "We call it faith-based food safety,"and most of it is faith-based." Powell and Christina Bruhn, a researcher in food science and technology at UC Davis, say that while figuring out what fraction of the lettuce may make you sick is a gamble, they still place their bets on the bagged stuff. "I go to the biggest grocery store I can find," he said. "They have requirements for what they put on the shelf." Even the crisp heads of lettuce in a farmer's market stall can be suspect, said Powell. They may be fresh and local, but that's no guarantee of safety. "The lettuce was sitting swamped in water for days," he said. "If I go to a farmer's market, I don't want to know that it's lovingly grown. I want to know you've taken steps for microbiological safety. If you can't answer those questions, I don't want to buy your lettuce." I will take my chances".

It is not understandable as to how greens can get contaminated if proper agricultural practices are used in producing them in the farms. Why such contamination problems are more prevalent in the US is also a mystery. Whether contamination takes place in the field or during handling, packing, distribution or retailing is also not clear. The industry has to take full responsibility for such a situation as contaminated products should not have come out of their premises unless tested rigorously by quality testers. The irradiation technology which has an answer for decontaminating tainted foods needs to be deployed more extensively if a fool proof distribution system is to be put in place. Consumers must realize that any technology used can have marginal influence on quality and it is trade of between safety and absolute eating quality! Safety authorities in the US must consider mandatory irradiation of products like bagged salads in the interest of consumer safety.


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