Safety Counts, Except When It Doesn’t

We’ll just take for granted my standard whine about having been too busy to sit down and think clearly enough to write a post, and move straight along to a roundup of food highlights from this week.

First off, this New York Times piece from Thursday: “Food Companies Are Placing the Onus for Safety on Consumers.”  The headline gets to the point: As the ingredient supply chain becomes more complex and the ability to trace the source of contamination becomes more difficult, food companies are focusing attention on telling the consumer to take the final steps necessary to ensure safety. For example, ensuring that a prepared pot pie is heated to a particular minimum temperature. Why so much complexity? Because companies are chasing the lowest cost, which means sourcing from a variety of vendors around the world and making frequent changes to lock in that rock-bottom price. As opposed, say, to establishing relationships of trust and accountability with a core group of favored vendors who can be counted on to ensure quality and safety. A lot of the food bloggers that I read on Twitter were not impressed, and many passed along this quote from Dan Savage: “And as a general rule, food consumers, anything with more than one or two ingredients that costs 69 cents should be presumed to be unsafe.” Obviously consumers can’t be careless, but putting the onus for safety on consumers seems misguided when the complicated ingredient supply chains are raising risks of pathogens in foods such as breakfast cereals. Still, the NYT article has given me a new favorite phrase: “an adequate lethality.”

Then we have the continuing efforts by the agricultural chemical lobby to paint the White House kitchen garden as an abomination. Readers will remember the leaked memo that acknowledged the industry’s fright at the Obamas’ plans to make the garden organic. Bizarrely, industry officials have not shut up. More bizarrely, one spokesman granted an interview to Samantha Bee of the Daily Show. Here’s my question:If you’re a communications director in a staid industry such as agricultural chemicals and someone from the Daily Show calls asking if you’d like to be interviewed by Samantha Bee, are you seriously naive enough to say yes?

Which leads to another question: If Stephen Colbert shows up to eat an overpriced menu offering at your restaurant, shouldn’t you take that as a sign that you’re doing something ridiculous? The Colbert Report on Thursday Night ran a series of spots on the theme of food (in addition to the theme “Stephen Colbert is awesome”): a skewering of soft drink industry efforts to resist a soda tax, a look at absurdly luxurious foods such as the $1,000 sundae, and an interview with Michael Pollan. Funny stuff. It’s hard to decide which I liked better from the Serendipity 3 segment, the bit where Colbert snorts a line of the edible gold or when he says, “If I gave you another thousand dollars, could I you make somebody poor watch me eat it?”

One Response to “Safety Counts, Except When It Doesn’t”

  1. Samantha says:

    Want to get really nervous? Read “Twinkie, Deconstructed.” The author investigates every item on the ingredients list, including those made from rocks (no joke!).

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