Minnesota Department of Agriculture screening program for food-borne pathogens gets discontinued

Categories: Food, News
USDA end program that tests for food borne pathogens on fresh produce

By the end of the year, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture will have phased out a program to test locally grown produce for a variety of pathogens that includes both salmonella and E. coli. Congress has opted to discontinue funding for the federally based program for 2013. Federal officials have asked all 11 states that participate in the program to cease sample collections so that the program can officially come to an end on December 31.

Originally it was unclear if the program would retain its funding to exist through 2012, but in July Congress decided to extend the funding through at least the year's end. The decision was reached and samples stopped being collected earlier this month.

Produce like lettuce, tomatoes, and cantaloupe could see an 80 percent decrease in inspections
According to a recent MPR report, the program had been responsible for uncovering multiple instances of contamination in the food system, most recently involving a salmonella contamination in grape tomatoes. In May the program was also responsible for initiating a recall on salmonella-contaminated spinach and in August on listeria-laden lettuce, reported Food Safety News. The ending of the program could result in a potential 80 percent reduction in produce testing for things like tomatoes, lettuce, and cantaloupes.

The program was enacted in 2001 under the Bush administration and established testing for the prevalence of food-borne pathogens in fresh produce at over 600 locations in 11 states. The ending of the program will result in a USDA cost savings of over $4.4 million a year. Minnesota will lose over $280,000 in federal money, which went to fund the program locally. The Obama administration elected to cut the funding because it felt the program isn't well served under the Agricultural Marketing Service that hosts it.

According to MPR, Heidi Kassenborg, who is in charge of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture's Dairy and Food Inspection Division, stated, "That sort of targeted sampling is going to be gone. We'll continue to test food, but produce won't be getting the scrutiny like it would have under the Microbiological Data Program."

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