Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Jungle Revisited

 15% (one in seven) of the US population suffers from foodborne illnesses annually. The US has shockingly high levels of foodborne illness, according to a new analysis by UK pressure group Sustain. It says that annually, around 48 million people of the US population is estimated to suffer from an illness, compared to around 1.5% (1 million) in the UK. In the US, 128,000 are hospitalised, and 3,000 die each year of foodborne diseases. Salmonella, causes around 1m illnesses per year in the US, while in the UK the numbers of officially recorded incidents is relatively low, with just under 10,000 laboratory confirmed cases in 2016. However, unreported incidents could substantially increase those numbers. Salmonella takes hold on farms and is found in the guts of poultry and livestock: farm animals and birds can become contaminated with faeces containing the bacteria during transport to abattoirs, where slaughter and processing procedures can also spread it.

Shocking hygiene failings have been discovered in some of the US’s biggest meat plants. Campaigners are calling once again for the closure of a legal loophole that allows meat with salmonella to be sold in the human supply chain, and also warn about the industry’s push to speed up production in the country’s meat plants. 

US- government records highlight numerous specific incidents including:
  • Diseased poultry meat that had been condemned found in containers used to hold edible food products;
  • Pig carcasses piling up on the factory floor after an equipment breakdown, leading to contamination with grease, blood and other filth;
  • Meat destined for the human food chain found riddled with faecal matter and abscesses filled with pus;
  • High-power hoses being used to clean dirty floors next to working production lines containing food products;
  • Factory floors flooded with dirty water after drains became blocked by meat parts and other debris;
  • Dirty chicken, soiled with faeces or having been dropped on the floor, being put back on to the production line after being rinsed with dilute chlorine.
  • In one incident, diseased meat – condemned from entering the human food chain – was placed in a container meant for edible product. An inspector discovered “carcasses of poultry showing evidence of septicemic disease ... carcasses showing evidence of having died from other causes than slaughter ... guts of carcasses, [and] poultry carcasses with heads attached.” He requested that the condemned items be removed. A similar incident was recorded some days later.
  • The documents seen by the Bureau and Guardian do not reveal the full numbers of non-compliance reports across the whole sector. However, one dataset covering 13 large red meat and poultry plants over two years (2015-17) shows an average of more than 150 violations a week, and 15,000 violations over the entire period. Thousands of similar violations were recorded at 10 pork-producing plants over a five-year period up until 2016, further documents show.
  •  Campaigners warned that other violations may go undetected. Tony Corbo, senior lobbyist with Food and Water Watch, said: “While the inspectors are able to cite the plants for hundreds of violations per week, I am confident that they are not catching every instance of unsafe practices being committed in these plants.” Meat hygiene inspectors interviewed by the Guardian agreed, saying fast line speeds and other pressures in some plants meant it was “inevitable” that some breaches slipped through the net.
  • According to Prof Erik Millstone, a food safety expert at Sussex University, “because of the risks of spreading infectious pathogens from carcass to carcass, and between portions of meat. The rates at which outbreaks of infectious food poisoning occur in the US are significantly higher than in the UK, or the EU, and poor hygiene in the meat supply chain is a leading cause of food poisoning in the US.”
  • The Guardian article is reminesicent of Upton Sinclair's novel "The Jungle", which exposed the Chicago meat industry in the early 20th C.

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