October 1, 2014

Microbiological Data Program Gets a Reprieve

The Microbiological Data Program (MDP), the country’s only program that regularly tests produce for deadly pathogens, has gotten a reprieve. The program, part of the USDA, screens high-risk produce for pathogens such as E. coli, Listeria, and Salmonella. This last week, press coverage, including a letter from Congresswomen Rosa DeLaura (D-CT), has focused attention on the small program.

Michael T. Jarvis, Director of Public Affairs for the U.S. Agricultural Marketing Service, told Food Poisoning Bulletin that the USDA has issued this statement: “While the Microbiological Data Program does not align with USDA’s core mission, the department will continue its work with state partners using existing agreements to conduct sampling and testing through this program through the end of the year.”

President Obama has not requested more funding for the program for FY 2013. The MDP, which costs $5 million per year, tests produce in 11 states, including California, Colorado, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin. State laboratories perform the testing of samples, and the results are filed the DNA of pathogenic bacteria into the CDC’s PulseNet system. This helps public health officials link foodborne illnesses to specific foods.

MDP has discovered contamination in many products, including Listeria monocytogenes in Cleveland Beansprouts’ alfalfa sprouts in May 2012, leading to a recall. And a recall for Salmonella in spinach, also issued in May, was initiated by MDP testing. Last year, one-third of the foodborne illness outbreaks were linked to fresh produce, including the deadly Jensen Farms Listeria outbreak in cantaloupes.

In fact, during the years from 2009 to 2012, MDP has found Salmonella in fresh produce 100 times, E. coli 0157:H7 two times, and Listeria monocytogenes eight times. Those tests generated 23 produce recalls for Salmonella, two recalls for E. coli 0157:H7, and five recalls for Listeria contamination. If the program prevents one death from hemolytic uremic syndrome caused by E. coli 0157:H7, it would more than pay for itself for an entire year.

If you’d like to sign a petition asking the President to reinstate funding for the Microbiological Data Program, Change.org has set one up. That organization is trying to get 1,000 signatures to submit the petition to the President.

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