In response to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration March 30 warning against consuming pistachio nuts, which might be contaminated with salmonella, 50 percent of caterers responding to a Special Events poll say they have taken pistachios off their menus. The rest either do not use pistachios on their menus or have turned to products such as European pistachios.
The FDA offers an updated list of recalled pistachio products.
Despite a rash of bad news about food safety, including contaminated peanuts, jalapeno peppers and spinach, a resounding 86 percent of caterers say their clients show no new worries about food safety. Only 14 percent see an increase in client concern since the pistachio recall.
CATERERS ARE CONCERNED
But caterers themselves are not so confident. Forty percent tell Special Events that food processors and growers are not doing enough to keep food safe, and 47 percent say the government does not do enough to keep food safe.
For Shelley Pedersen, CPCE, head of Beyond Cuisine in Atlanta, her worries about food safety are based on personal experience.
"I was a victim of foodborne illness three times in 2008 alone," she recounts. "Clearly we must become more vigilant about our food sourcing and the standards by which the companies are allowed to pump product into the general food supply, and compromised product intended for distribution--whether unwittingly or with intent or malice--must be stopped by policy, regulation and rigid inspection."
"Over the years I think between financial reasons and waning interest by the government, there has been a lack of oversight," notes Locke Johnston, executive chef with Philadelphia-based Feastivities Catering. "Food safety should be a much bigger issue than it is. It can't be left up to the companies self-policing themselves; that doesn't work."
LEGISLATION ON WAY?
New food safety regulation might be coming soon.
Congress is considering proposals to give the FDA mandatory authority to recall products, require safety systems at food processing companies, boost inspections and track food movement throughout the country, according to the Los Angeles Times.
A bill is pending in California to require the state's food processors to have plans in place to prevent contamination and respond quickly if it occurs. Giant processor Kraft Foods found the salmonella contamination in pistachios last month, then tipped off the FDA. At present, such testing and notification is not mandatory.
SAFETY STARTS HERE
Many caterers take responsibility for food safety into their own kitchens.
"We work very closely with all our food purveyors to ensure we are receiving the freshest and safest products available," notes Andrew Gerstel, vice president of Alexandria, Va.-based Windows Catering Co. "If there is any ever uncertainty in the processing or handling of a product or of a particular vendor, we will seek alternative sources. Additionally, upon receiving daily shipments of our produce, seafood, poultry, dry goods and meats, we do a thorough inspection and cleaning prior to putting into our inventory."
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