A very interesting, if alarming, holiday morning read this morning from reporter Monica Eng at the Chicago Tribune, describes Congress’ potential elimination of a program currently screening U.S. fruits and vegetables for pathogenic E. coli.  The report states:

The House last month approved a bill that would end funding for the 10-year-old Microbiological Data Program, which tests about 15,000 annual samples of vulnerable produce such as sprouts, lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, cantaloupe and cilantro for pathogens including salmonella and E. coli.

Over the last two years, its findings have triggered at least 19 produce recalls, according to the Food and Drug Administration.  The commercial produce industry, which has long expressed concerns about the program, this spring suggested ending its $4.5 million funding. In a memo to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, the USDA’s Fruit and Vegetable Industry Advisory Committee complained about “unnecessary recalls” and asked if the funds would be “better utilized elsewhere.”

My “favorite” part though, was this stunner of a quote from an industry representative, lamenting that the information gathered through the program is actually be used:

“We thought that was fine and those were good things to do,” said David Gombas, of United Fresh Produce, a major industry association. “But over time it got twisted and it turned into a regulatory program where they were finding contamination and turning it over to the FDA and causing recalls.”

As translated by Food Poison Journal:

Only a tiny fraction of U.S. produce is subject to testing for pathogens, but if there are going to be a few government programs, please don’t test any of the contaminated produce. If you do find something, for goodness sake, don’t tell anyone or take the drastic step of removing potentially contaminated produce from the shelves.

Frankly, cutting produce testing on the heels of the devastating European outbreak is begging for trouble.

My boss, Bill Marler alerted the blogosphere to this issue on June 17th.