“We need bodies in the streets before we get it.” Yikes! That’s never what you want to hear from a food safety expert—but in a new episode of Retro Report, we learn just how realistic that statement is when it comes to food contamination in the US.
The report outlines the shocking-but-not-surprising history of food safety in the US. Mostly, that history is filled with regulatory loopholes and corporate blame-shifting. One prime example? How the deadly 1993 E. coli outbreak at Jack In the Boxes around the country led the Federal government to declare the bacteria an “adulterant.” That doesn’t sound like a big deal, but as the New York Times explains, it was hugely overdue:
It was the first time that a food-borne organism had been so labeled, making it no different from any foreign matter — say, a chemical or cigarette ash — that might contaminate a batch of ground beef. Now, at the first sign of E. coli, the food would be automatically subject to recall. In 2011, this adulterant scarlet letter was extended to six less common strains of E. coli.
Unfortunately, the same basic problem has reared its head in the US again and again. Because specific bacteria or strains aren’t officially classified as “adulterants,” meat producers aren’t necessarily obligated to issue recalls of their products right away. And often, tracking the spread of the outbreak and fixing the problem is left in the hands of the company, too.
As Retro Report’s mini-doc explains, the Federal government’s process of regulating food safety is outdated, sprawling, and horribly underfunded. If we really care about this shit—literally! shit!—voters are going to have to make a lot more noise. [Retro Report]
Contact the author at kelsey@Gizmodo.com.