The Bush Administration has fairly well managed to ignore or mismanage nearly every problem that has arisen on its watch. I know that sounds fairly strong, but I’ll wait for a while for you to come up with something that they dealt with in timely and efficient manner.

Nope, I can’t think of one either.

Well, now they’re meeting the food-safety issue with that same dazzling efficacy. The FDA issued its “Final Guidance for Safe Production of Fresh-Cut Fruits and Vegetables” today. It’s a totally voluntary, non-binding resolution that says that fruit and vegetable processors should adopt food safety plans similar to those in the meat industry. There are no mandatory rules, no role for inspections, no punishments for violations and really, nothing other than recommendations of common-sense issues that the industry is already aware of. Some of the choice excerpts:

“FDA recommends that supervisors be trained to recognize the symptoms of active infectious disease; these symptoms are vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps. We recommend that employees with these symptoms be excluded from any operations which may be expected to result in contamination of fresh or fresh-cut produce or food contact surfaces, including equipment and utensils, until the medical condition is resolved.

“We recommend that firms maintain an adequate supply of bandages that provide protection from any wound. A wound containing pus (such as an open and draining boil or other infected wound) that is located on a part of the body that could contact fresh produce or fresh-cut produce, processing equipment, or tools, presents a risk of contaminating fresh-cut produce.”

They go waaaaay out on a limb and suggest that workers…gasp… wash their hands in situations such as these:

  1. After using the toilet; after coughing, sneezing, using a handkerchief or tissue
  2. After caring for or touching animals
  3. After engaging in any activity that may contaminate hands, such as handling garbage, cleaning chemicals………

This, after a 2006 year that saw outbreak after outbreak after outbreak after outbreak. The year started off with the CDC wrapping up an investigation of a multistate outbreak of Salmonellosis related to ground beef. It then swung into a busy summer and fall that started off with a June outbreak of E. coli H7:O157 related to lettuce at Wendy’s and then rapidly moved to the mulitstate outbreak of E. coli H7:O157 from spinach in September to botulism in Florida from carrot juice and a 19-state outbreak of Salmonella-laden tomatoes in September and E. coli H7:O157 at Taco Bell in November and finally to Norovirus at Olive Garden in Indianapolis in December.

And these were only the big ones.

2007 isn’t shaping up any better. We’ve already seen peanut butter cause Salmonellosis in almost 400 people across at least 41 states.

It kind of makes you wonder whether it’s been a good idea that the FDA has been doing only about half as many inspections as they were doing three years ago. Other choice morsels from the report:

“There are 12 percent fewer FDA employees in field offices who concentrate on food issues.

Safety tests for U.S.-produced food have dropped nearly 75 percent, from 9,748 in 2003 to 2,455 last year, according to the agency’s own statistics.

Imagine what could happen if somebody really wanted to intentionally wreak some havoc with the food-chain.