If You Want Safe Food, Know Where It Comes From

tomato with bar code photo

According to Sylvain Charlebois of the Kenneth Levene Graduate School of Business, writing in the Globe and Mail, "Food-crisis investigators in the U.S. are in the dark. With more than 1,000 cases of illness reported in 41 states (and two deaths reported in Texas), officials from the Food and Drug Administration and the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention now believe tomatoes may not be the only culprits in the national salmonella outbreak. Some hot peppers are suspect, too."

Charlebois notes that "Tomatoes are a logistical nightmare because of the complex channel they follow from farm to fork. Because tomatoes are perishable, suppliers usually depend on more than one grower to fill orders. Once the tomatoes arrive at a processing facility, they are usually sorted according to consumption readiness, size and grade but rarely according to origin. It has been reported that Florida-grown tomatoes are shipped to Mexico for packaging before being returned to the U.S. for sale to American consumers. Once tomatoes are cut, diced and assorted for use in products such as salads, guacamole and spaghetti sauces, tracing their provenance becomes unfeasible."

label on egg photo

Yet in the low-key, hippie-infested and technically unsophisticated organic sector of the marketplace, we can see a number printed on the shell of every egg we eat. We can go to our computer and plug that number in at the dreadfully named eggsactrace.ca and find out who raised it, what the chickens were fed, and who graded it. If it can be done for eggs, why can't it be done for tomatoes?

And while we will always suggest that it is better to make your own food from scratch, if a manufacturer is chopping up tomatoes for a sauce, why can't there be a system that tracks the bar code on the side of a tomato, its case or even its shipping container and connect that to the lot number of the batch of sauce. C'mon, guys, it's not that tough.

Charlebois says " The FDA has said it may never find the culprit of the current outbreak. Without pointing fingers, the time has come to adopt a new transversal food-traceability strategy that will predispose agricultural supply chains toward flexibility. The notion of shared responsibility through the food-supply chain cannot be evaded: It is high time to design a continentally based food-safety scheme for North America." Good idea. ::Globe and Mail

More on Food Safety in TreeHugger
They are Playing With Our Food Again
Do You Know Where Your Banana Has Been?
Supermarket Secrets: Be Careful Where you Shop
Tracking food with your Cell Phone

Related Content on Treehugger.com