I was surprised to see criticism in the blogosphere about recent efforts by Trader Joe’s and Wegmans supermarkets to restrict certain items of Chinese-grown produce (e.g., spinach and garlic) from their shelves.
The critique seems to be that because some U.S.-grown produce has been linked to recent E. coli outbreaks, U.S. retailers lack standing to restrict foreign-grown products.
The critique of retailers restricting Chinese imports demonstrates a lack of understanding about the efforts that many, if not most, major U.S. food sellers now undergo to ensure food safety from farm to table. In recent years, the nation’s largest supermarket and restaurant chains have become very involved in the safety of their supply chain.
The industry now insists on the highest standards of safety in the growing and harvesting of produce. Many restaurants and retailers audit their growers’ food safety practices. Every item of produce is traceable to its source. If a food seller cannot maintain this kind of control over its supply chain or ensure its safety, the seller will not sell the product.
Despite the often Herculean efforts by the food industry, food-borne pathogen outbreaks are on the rise. The fact that the highest standards of food safety are not always enough to prevent a food-borne pathogen does not mean we should let our guard down. Trader Joe’s and Wegmans are to be lauded, not criticized, for being cautious about the source of their produce.