Over 1,000 people in 41 states and Washington, D.C., have become sick with the same strain of salmonella poisoning, according to the FDA. The source of the largest food outbreak in a decade has still not been determined and while tomatoes are still considered a potential cause, fresh jalapeños have been added to the suspect list.
The agency does not know what state or country the tainted produce may have originated in, and this lack of information illuminates the flaws in the Bioterrorism Act of 2002, according to the New York Times.
The law, according to the article, was intended to give federal officials a way to respond immediately to threats to the nation's food supply. To comply, importers, processors and distributors are supposed to keep track of where they buy produce and where it goes. This record-keeping provision in the law was conceived to provide officials with a means to quickly trace to the source of a major food illness outbreak.
However, processors often repack boxes of tomatoes to meet a buyer's demands, and when they do so they are not required to keep track of the farm or even country of origin of the produce. This has been a major problem for investigators.
Produce handlers only have to know one step back and one step forward in the food chain, according to the article, to comply with the law, and it does not apply to growers or retailers. There is also no standard format for record keeping, meaning the FDA is now going through a mishmash of records in an attempt to trace the source of the outbreak.
There is much debate brewing about who the FDA or the industry should put in place a better system for tracing food to its origins.
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