With the recent outbreak of E. coli in Germany being linked to fresh produce, and probably organic beans sprouts, several of our members have expressed concern about what that implies about food safety in organic agriculture. While having organic produce potentially linked to a bacterial outbreak is certainly not good PR for organic food, I’m not half as worried as I’d be if the contaminated produce was conventional.
Why? Because the USDA’s organic standards require such strict record-keeping for certified organic operations. The key to controlling an outbreak like this once it has started is to trace the contamination back to the source as quickly as possible. And this type of situation is where the transparency and traceability of the organic food system really shines.
If our co-op was affected by an outbreak like this, it would take only a matter of minutes to track down which delivery and which farm supplied us with the product in question. We’re required to keep these records because we’re Certified Organic Retailers. Certified organic farms are then able to provide documentation for the source of seeds, compost application dates, harvesting and delivery of product. Every step along the way is documented, so if something goes wrong- or even if there’s simply a question of organic status- an answer is quick to come by.
You can count on us to stay informed about these situations and keep our shoppers’ best interest at heart. In the case of a life-threatening recall, we call each of our member-owners who have purchased the product during the affected time period.
While the real key to keeping bacterial outbreaks under control is to prevent them from happening in the first place with good sanitation, mindful animal husbandry and sustainable-scale operations, I take comfort in knowing that we have systems in place to react quickly and efficiently if our organic or local foods are affected.