Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) urged the Obama Administration to fund the Microbiological Data Program (MDP). This small program, which costs only $4.3 million dollars a year, checks samples of produce in the market for pathological bacteria. The MDP is not funded for fiscal year 2013 which begins October 1, 2012. It is the only federal program that is dedicated to researching bacterial contamination of produce.
In contrast, food poisoning costs the United States $78 billion every year in medical costs, lost income, and lost productivity. And in 2011, one-third of foodborne illness outbreaks were linked to fresh produce. The most notable was the Jensen Farms cantaloupe Listeria outbreak, which sickened at least 146 people in 28 states and killed at least 30.
Her letter states, in part, “cutting this program will leave public health officials without a crucial tool used to investigate deadly foodborne illnesses in fresh produce. The FDA does not have the budget or capacity to collect and analyze as many samples as the MDP. Food safety experts and advocates are outspoken on the unique contribution of the Microbiological Data Program to our understanding of produce safety.”
President Obama’s 2013 budget eliminated the program, which has triggered 30 recalls in the past three years. The MDP is currently in the U.S. Department of Agriculture; some officials think it is better suited to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Produce is contaminated in several ways. Runoff from farms, which can contain bacteria from raw manure, irrigation water that contains untreated sewage or manure, contaminated wash water, improper handling, contact with animals, fowl, and insects are all vectors for contamination.
That’s why it’s important to thoroughly wash produce under running water before you prepare it. Wash produce and scrub with a clean brush or your fingers before you peel, slice, or eat it. Clean and disinfect cutting boards and your sink regularly. And avoid cross-contamination by keeping raw meats, seafood, and poultry away from foods that are consumed raw.