Now, it’s E. coli contamination of all things Toll-House cookie dough. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 65 people in 29 states have become ill from either eating raw cookie dough or consuming another food item that became contaminated from coming into contact with raw cookie dough. Eating raw cookie dough is never a smart thing to do because there is always a chance that the dough is contaminated with a food-borne pathogen, but the usual culprit is salmonella from unpasteurized eggs–not E. coli which is more commonly associated with beef products.
Again, as was the case with the recent food-borne illness outbreaks associated with peanuts, peanut butter, spinach, and alfalfa sprouts, the Food and Drug Administration did not know there was a problem with the cookie dough until people started to get sick. We found out with the Peanut Corporation of America outbreak that FDA inspectors had not been in the Georgia plant that was the center of the outbreak for eight years. Had inspectors been there on a regular basis, they would have seen that the plant was manufacturing food under unsanitary conditions. Information on the last FDA inspection of the Nestle’s plant involved in the cookie dough outbreak still has not been released, but we would not be surprised to learn if FDA has not been in there for years.
That is why we were dismayed to hear of comments attributed to the new FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg who stated that more frequent inspections of food establishments are not the answer to preventing food-borne illness, but more “smart” inspections were. We have heard that line before from past FDA commissioners and that thinking has gotten us to where we are today. “Smart” inspections has been code in the past to fewer inspections, not more. It seems that she is being advised by some of the same people who have fought for decades transforming the FDA into an inspection agency. This is very troubling.
FDA publicly says that it wants to prevent food-borne illnesses. But it seems that the agency still wants to rely on the honor system and let industry police itself. You need “cops-on-the-beat” to prevent problems from happening. Otherwise, FDA will continue to be the fire department that puts out the fire after people have already been injured. The recent food-borne illness outbreaks prove that a paradigm shift is needed at FDA, but as long as there is resistance by key leaders within that agency to commit to a rigorous food inspection program, more consumers will get sick and even die.
To make a healthy batch of cookies from scratch, see this Guilt-Free Golden Door Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe.
Food & Water Watch is an organization dedicated to the belief that the public should be able to count on our government to oversee and protect the quality and safety of food and water. For more information, go to www.foodandwaterwatch.org.
Tony Corbo, Food and Water Watch