Federal Funds for Food Pathogen Screening in Danger

Sprouts of doom. - Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons
Sprouts of doom.

Despite growing concerns about E. coli outbreaks in food supplies, the Chicago Tribune reported yesterday that the federal government might eliminate the screening test for the form of E. coli that recently sickened more than 4,000 people and killed more than 40.

Last month, the House moved to stop funding the Microbiological Data Program. For ten years, the program has screened produce for pathogens. The U.S. government can save $4.5 million by eliminating the program, which organizations such as the Produce Marketing Association say are repetitive because other programs might check for pathogens.

MDP is the only program that currently tests for non-O157 strains of E. coli. In the past two years, MDP has issued nineteen recalls of contaminated products.

In the meantime, five kitchen staffers at Camp Lutherhaven on Lake Coeur d'Alene in Idaho have been diagnosed with E. coli. The workers were removed from kitchen service as soon as they were diagnosed. The cause of the infection is still being investigated.

The latest isn't because of E. coli. It's for salmonella. Which, really, is almost as bad as E. coli. Twenty-one people have reported the disease after consuming alfalfa sprouts and "spicy sprouts" from Idaho's Evergreen Fresh Sprouts, LLC. The sprouts were sold in Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, New Jersey and Washington.

E. coli continues to cause problems in Europe. A hospital in Bordeaux is treating several patients for E. coli traced to vegetable sprouts. One elderly patient has died. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control in investigating to see if there's a link between this outbreak and the one in Germany last month.