One of the useful things the Pundit can do is try and advance public policy as it relates to food safety. Sometimes this means being critical of our regulatory agencies.
We are better suited to do this than many of our associations because they have to work with the CDC and FDA and similar organizations, so they are loathe to criticize them.
But it is incorrect to think the only problems are in the spinach fields. One thing that has become clear is the severe limitations of the survey methodology used by the FDA. Twelve percent of the people surveyed claimed they bought spinach that had been labeled as organic. Now we know that, if true, none were ill because of it. People mentioned brands that had nothing to do with the situation, types of product, etc.
In fact, one of the most useful things that could be done to contain the impact of any future outbreaks would be to improve the survey methodology. We hope that a project in this area will be looked at for some of that million dollars PMA has dedicated to food safety.
Another area we are working on is making sure that PulseNet, the national network by which food safety outbreaks are identified as such, is open at least the hours of the state laboratories that contribute data.
In the spinach outbreak, the crucial data from Wisconsin was submitted Friday afternoon after PulseNet staff in Atlanta went home for the weekend. So it sat until Monday when the staff returned.
If this had been an act of terrorism on the food supply, it would be like giving the terrorists a weekend head start.
The additional cost of keeping staff at work till at least the health labs on the West Coast close is almost nothing compared to the enormous personal and financial costs of deaths and illnesses from outbreaks. Three hours a night times five nights a week is only 15 hours, not even a half-time employee. It is ridiculous this money isn’t appropriated and the Pundit is working to change this.
We’ve dealt with the issue of PulseNet here, here, here and here. The Washington Postpicked up on our reporting here. Now the NBC affiliate in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the epicenter of the outbreak, did an investigative piece based on our work. The Pundit was recently interviewed, and you can see Jim Prevor on TV right here.