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Food safety at the top

Friday, December 7, 2018   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Noah Fish, Agrinews
HIXTON, Wis. — During the recent nationwide outbreak of E. coli infections linked to romaine lettuce, Milwaukee’s coop-owned Outpost Natural Foods stores pulled all romaine products save one.

Packaged baby romaine from Superior Fresh from in Hixton, Wis., stayed on the shelves because it is grown in "a clean and controlled environment,” Outpost Natural said.

Brandon Gottsacker, president of the Wisconsin-based aquaponics firm Superior Fresh, said that safety and security are at the forefront of their mission.

"We have controls over all the inputs, have biosecure rooms and require our employees to wear all kinds of protective equipment,” Gottsacker said. "The facility is very much organic, and the produce is grown organically, but we take a lot of pride in the fact that we keep it extremely clean and secure.”

Most food consumed in the U.S. has to travel long distances to get from producer to consumer, leading to a greater risk of contamination. Midwest manufacturers like Superior Fresh who are able to grow year-round offer a chance for consumers to buy locally grown produce even during the winter.

The timing couldn’t have been worse when a multistate outbreak of E. coli hit the U.S. last month during the one holiday that happens to be centered around food.

On Nov. 20, the FDA announced an investigation into the outbreak, likely linked to romaine lettuce. The outbreak had reached 12 states and parts of Canada. After the CDC was unable to pinpoint the exact location of the outbreak, the agency issued a stern warning for consumers not to sell, buy, serve or eat any romaine lettuce.

On Nov. 30, the CDC and FDA scaled back that warning, and advised U.S. consumers to avoid any romaine lettuce harvested from the Central Coastal growing regions.

The outbreak felt way too familiar to some U.S. consumers. In June, when the CDC declared another romaine lettuce linked E. coli outbreak. That case infected at least 210 people from 36 states, resulted in 96 people hospitalized and five deaths.

This year alone, the CDC has conducted more than 20 investigations into multistate foodborne outbreaks in the U.S., more than any year of the past decade. According to the CDC, foodborne illness infects one in six Americans each year, and sends about 128,000 people to the hospital and results in 3,000 deaths annually.

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