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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Nestle Cookie Dough Scare Shows Need for More Regulation

The latest E. coli contamination is open us. Last year it was food with peanuts, and a few years ago it was spinach. Now it is cookie dough. 

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) posted a warning on its website on June 19 about Nestle's Toll House cookie dough possibly being contaminated with E. coli O157:H7. As a result, Nestle recalled 47 varieties if Toll House cookie dough 24 hours later. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the FDA are conducting a joint ongoing investigation.

The CDC reported that since June 25, 69 people have been infected with the E. coli strain in 29 states. Thirty-four people have been hospitalized, and nine developed the serious complication Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS).

William Keene, Oregon's chief epidemiologist, is certain the cookie dough is the source of the E. coli contamination. "Virtually everyone (who got ill) ate the same brand of cookie dough," he said. "I have absolute confidence in the conclusion."

Nestle posted a press release on its website, VeryBestBaking that stated the company will "continue to cooperate fully with the FDA and CDC in this investigation." According to a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article, Nestle officials refused to give the FDA access to "pest control records, environmental testing programs and other information."

The article sites a September 2006 visit by the FDA to Nestle's Danville, VA plant that refused to allow the inspector "to review consumer complaints or inspect its program designed to prevent food contamination." During the visit the inspector found dirty equipment and "three live ant-like insects" on a ledge. A year later, another FDA inspector wrote after a visit that plant officials would not allow the "firm's consumer complaint file" to be reviewed, would not allow photos to be taken, and refused "to sign affidavits or receipts," and refused "to provide specific information on interstate commerce." Legally companies do not have to allow access to such records.

In May, the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved the Food Safety Enhancement Act (HR 2749), which would give the FDA greater regulatory powers over the country's food supply and food providers. It would grant the FDA the authority to "regulate how crops are raised and harvested, to quarantine a geographic area, to make warrentless searches of business records, and establish a national food tracing system," according to the website, Open Congress. The bill would also impose a $500 annual registration fee on all food plants.

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