Half of consumers polled have changed their habits concerning the foods they buy and eat over the past six months, according to a new Associated Press-Ipsos poll.
Since April, a search for the source of salmonella in tomatoes, now in peppers remains a mystery.
A salmonella scare has cost the tomato industry about $100 million over the last few months. Finding the source of tainted produce has also highlighted the inadequacies of the government’s ability to track the specific source and journey of a tomato during this food-borne illness outbreak.
Consumers aren’t too shaken by the entire salmonella outbreak. The poll finds three out of four people are confident about the relative overall safety of food. Most have avoided buying foods that were the focus of warnings.
Since vine-ripened tomatoes were never on the list (nor were grape and cherry tomatoes), many consumers have turned to local farmers’ markets to buy their produce.
The poll reflects the overwhelming feeling (86%) that produce should be labeled so it can be traced back to the farm, as well as the processors, packers and shippers in between. Presently there is no tracking system, and when FDA investigators tried, they could not follow the path a tomato had taken from field to store.
80 percent of respondents said they would support new federal standards for the safety of fresh produce.
In the poll, women were more concerned than men about food safety. Women do more food shopping than men. While men were 39 percent “very confident” about the safety of the food we buy, only 23 percent of women felt “very confident”.
Congress plans a hearing on food safety July 30. Tomato growers want to know why the investigation by the FDA took so long, especially since food-handling companies are supposed to keep traceable records for food as it travels along the distribution chain.
California’s tomato sales are down about 40 percent.
“It’s a government-made disaster,” Melanie Horwath, a family member with the Gonzales Packing Company in the Salinas Valley tells the San Francisco Chronicle. The company has seen a crop loss of about $2 million this season. “The government has a responsibility to only provide facts, not idle speculation. They’re going to put us all out of business,” she says.
The source of an E. coli food-borne illness in late 2006 has still not been determined. Both salmonella and E. coli bacteria live in the intestinal tracts of animals and can be transferred through humans, animals, soil and water.
In that case, the suspected source by many is industrialized agriculture, where huge numbers of cattle are concentrated in one area, and fed a corn-rich diet that creates acidity. The sludge from these operations is sent downstream.
One advocate of food safety in Congress says the industry should listen to the public.
"We live in an age of technology where you can bar-code a banana," said Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill. Told Fox News. "We've got to work this through with the industry and come up with something that's reasonable. The more confidence consumers have, the more goods they will purchase."
So far about 1,200 people have been sickened in 42 states since mid-April when the first cases were seen. The tomato warning has been lifted in most areas, but cilantro and hot peppers are under suspicion. #