nos-trum. pronunciation: \nos'-trum\. noun. Etymology: Latin, neuter of noster our, ours.
1. a medicine of secret composition recommended by its preparer but usually without scientific proof of its effectiveness.
2. a usually questionable remedy or scheme.
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Saturday, November 20, 2010

Food Safety Regulation. $1.4B In Taxes So You Don't Have To Wash Your Food

The Senate begins debate on a bill to implement a massive overhaul, regulating food safety (Wash Post, Nov 18).

Decades ago, we (me, spouse, 4 kids) raised some chickens.  For a single family we probably had way too many chickens because we couldn't keep up with all the eggs.  The birds ran free (a pre-1980 version of "free range;"  we didn't notice any difference in taste).  We kept finding eggs in the garage, under the roof, behind bushes.

In any case, as mildly educated, but city-raised, home growers, we knew all chickens are carriers of Salmonella, the agent that causes gastroenteritis in humans.  The eggs, as they are laid, get coated with the germ.  So, we carefully disinfected the eggs before storing them for use.  And we didn't eat them raw.

To this day, we wash fresh foods like lettuce, tomatoes, etc.  Not bananas, unless we cut them up...never mind, that's a different story.

The food industry washes the eggs for you, before packaging.  But if the process is ineffective, or contaminated, and people aren't careful, illness results.  Bacteria are killed by cooking, but when raw eggs are consumed, or the the contaminated shell comes in cotact with the egg, it's a problem.

[I digress for a moment.  Remember the contaminated tomatoes incident?  People got sick, and were afraid to eat them.  Restaurants stopped serving them.  Here's a tip:  Nobody got sick at home from tomatoes that were thoroughly washed before preparing.]

The public health results of people taking responsibility for doing the sensible thing (by home-sanitizing fresh foods) is amazing.

But instead of you and I doing what we should, we're going to devote billions in taxpayer money to make sure the industry takes over, relieving us of any need to apply common sense.

Problem.  There is a body of research on accidents, ranging from nuclear reactor breakdowns to food processing contamination, that suggests the more safeguards, backups, and fail-safes put in place, the more certain it becomes that there will be incidents.  The book to read is Normal Accidents, by Charles Perrow.  It sounds counterintuitive, but Perrow makes a strong case.

Combine this with the progressive consolidation of the food industry, where a single plant sends products to a large section of the country.   It magnifies the significance of a single breakdown in the process, sending contaminated foods to  millions. 

And lastly, even if there is a small improvement in food safety, the regulatory cost both to the taxpayer and to the shopper at the grocery store (you didn't think the farmers wouldn't pass on the costs, did you?) will be significant.

Have a nice day, and enjoy your highly regulated, safety-ensured five dollar tomato.

I'm going to continue to wash them.

Doc D

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