FDA and CDC have made a point that they don’t release their speculations. So, for example, neither organization will name any other item, beyond tomatoes, that they are considering as the source for the Salmonella that has spread in this outbreak.
This is a reasonable enough policy, if it is followed consistently. Last Friday, however, when CDC’s Dr. Griffin announced that this was a “fresh produce” outbreak, we think she violated the same policy.
If CDC doesn’t know with sufficient certainty what item it is willing to publicly declare, then, obviously, it doesn’t know what particular category — such as fresh produce.
Remember, items such as guacamole or salsa can be manufactured items produced in food processing plants. They are not fresh produce.
By announcing that it is a fresh produce outbreak but then refusing to define the items of interest, they implicate the whole industry.
Now the fear — quite a reasonable fear — is that if the FDA and CDC say they are looking at jalapenos or cilantro, people will take a “better safe than sorry” attitude and avoid the products.
But, having defined the problem broadly as “produce,” consumers may start to take a similar attitude toward the whole department.
It is another example of sloppy management of the outbreak communication effort.