Your Food Just Got Less Safe


The USDA’s Microbiological Data Program (MDP) shut down at the end of 2012. The cost-effective program tested produce for pathogens. Why would USDA shut down a program that’s cheap and effective?

The MDP started in 2001 and was designed to collect data on the prevalence of pathogens in produce. When bacteria was detected in the tested produce, the data was reported to the FDA and recalls were issued. However, the main purpose of the program remained providing data about contamination rates of produce.

The largest proponents of shutting down the Microbiological Data Program are the lobbyists for the produce industry. They have argued that the food industry can perform its own testing. While that’s true, the food industry performs very little testing for pathogens. The information is not collated in a central database so that food safety procedures can be reconsidered and updated as necessary.

With the MDP gone, we will need to rely on the corporations to keep the consumers’ best interests at heart.

The FDA also tests for pathogens, but at a much lower rate. With the shutdown of the MDP, only 20% of the testing will continue.

Lettuce photo via Shutterstock

4 thoughts on “Your Food Just Got Less Safe”

  1. I enjoy Eat Drink Better, but this time I have a big problem with your premise. The produce industry is made up of family farms, and many of them small farms, not faceless monolithic agribusiness. None of us in our right minds would knowingly send contaminated produce to market. And BTW, we and our families are usually the first ones to eat our products. If our goal is to protect real people by keep contaminated produce from store shelves in the first place, MDP’s end is no loss. We’ll do much better to invest in implementing the new Food Safety Modernization Act, with its first-ever produce-specific standards and focus on prevention. I’m a 20-year produce industry veteran with extensive food safety knowledge, and now a farmer’s wife too.

    1. Just to clarify, Julia, do you work on a small family farm or for a PR firm? I am only wondering because a little bit of research makes me think that you may work for, which seems to imply that rather than speaking from the heart, maybe you’re being paid to spread an industry message?

      1. Hi Becky: I can understand your skepticism (thank you for taking the time to look me up, BTW). I’m not monochromatic, and I doubt you are either. Some of my hats include mom, farmer’s wife, foodie, produce industry alumni and PR practitioner, and not necessarily in that order on any given day. I’ve read this blog for about a year now as a foodie consumer. Should I ever comment anywhere on behalf of a client, I’d insist on saying so, I’m old fashioned that way I think not doing so would be dishonest.

        1. I appreciate your honesty, Julia! We have had problems with that kind of commenter in the past, especially on political articles, so I am always a bit wary. Thanks for understanding.

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