Friday, February 26, 2010

More Bad Food News - Rotten Tomatoes

Just when I think that I might be going a little overboard worrying about the food we're eating in the United States, something comes up to remind me why I should be paranoid. In another piece of good reporting the New York Times has reported that Kraft, Safeway, Frito-Lay, and B&G foods have been taking bribes from a tomato food processor called SK Foods. According to federal prosecutors the bribes were offered in order to allow SK to sell them tomatoes so full of mold and other defects they would not pass federal tests. Not that we have any kind of inspection system or anything.

This is just another case of the "chickens coming home to roost." For the last decade the party in power didn't believe that business and industry needed to be regulated and so they didn't regulate them. Because as we all know the captains of industry are the most altruistic bunch you are every likely to meet and would no more endanger the American public then drink a martini without an olive, right?

They certainly proved that in the banking industry, unregulated they made a great deal of money for themselves, not so good for the rest of us though. And how can we forget the peanut recall where the product left the farm knowingly contaminated with salmonella and sickened hundreds? Peanuts that were so disgusting that our neighbors Canada refused them entry.

The problem is that inspecting food, airplanes, banks, etc. after the poo has hit the proverbial fan or somebody has died, is like closing the barn door after Elvis has left the building. People enjoy thinking that revelations such as the ammonia in the hamburger of McDonalds & Burger King is an unusual event when in fact basically our entire food industry is self-regulated! It is becoming increasingly evident that unless you know exactly where your food came from it is a total crap shoot.

I visited Krafts website to try and find out exactly how many tomato products they have but was unsuccessful because they have so many brands. But I did find that they consider themselves one of the most trusted names in the food industry. "We've put in place strong food safety and quality systems for our ingredients and our products."

Apparently some of their food brokers didn't get the memo because one of them was recently arrested at a New York airport. Allegedly Robert Watson, a food buyer for Kraft foods, found himself $20,000 short of a fully paid tax bill. So he called his buddy, a tomato broker in California, and asked him for the money. The broker was happy to help out although, being good businessmen, told him it would have to come out of his normal "commissions."

According to the New York Times these tainted shipments involved as many as 55 companies. "In some cases, companies detected problems and sent the product back - but in many cases, according to prosecutors, they did not, and the tainted ingredients wound up in food sold to consumers." That doesn't leave me feeling warm and fuzzy about the food industry.

The good news is we have access to farmers markets. The bad news is that Redmond Saturday market doesn't start until May. In the meantime, buy fresh and local as much as you can. At least you can see if your tomatoes are rotten.

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