Saturday, November 20, 2010

Poll: Should Ms. Estrella Be Prevented From Selling Her Cheese?


Small Cheesemaker Defies FDA Over Recall, New York Times, November 18, 2010

The FDA found listeria in some of Ms. Estrella's cheese. They found listeria throughout the building where she makes it. Ms. Estrella "did a vigorous cleaning and renovation." FDA found listeria in her cheese and facility after the cleaning.

Listeria can be deadly for those with compromised immune systems, the very young and the elderly. Pregnant women are about 20 times more likely to become infected with listeria than are other healthy adults. Infection during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage or permanent disability in the newborn.

The FDA asked Ms. Estrella to recall her cheese. She declined. (The FDA does not have the authority to recall.)

What do you think? Should Ms. Estrella continue to sell her cheese? Should society prevent Ms. Estrella from selling her cheese? Should Ms. Estrella's farm and food product be inspected for pathogens at all?

Should Ms. Estrella be prevented from selling her cheese?

Photo of a cow being milked at Ms. Estrella's farm from NYTs.


Bix said...

Thinking of cigarettes...

How about we let her sell her cheese but she has to put a label on it that says,

FDA WARNING: Samples of this cheese were found to contain Listeria. Listeria can cause illness and may be fatal for those with weakened immune systems. Pregnant women and fetuses/newborns are especially vulnerable.

It has to appear on restaurant menus that use the cheese too.

ElDoubleVee said...

It seems to me that if a person, or company, puts a product out on the marketplace that they know is harmful they should be liable for criminal negligence and could be sued for all they have. What if it wasn't cheese but a car part, or aircraft engine part, that the manufacturer knew was faulty and sold anyway, wouldn't they be criminally liable for damages. When I go to a restaurant I order and eat food with the expectation that the food is not harmful. If a restaurant gave me food that they KNOW contains harmful pathogens I would sue their asses for as much as I could get. That is blatant negligence.

raymond62 said...

What is this, a joke! Of course it should be recalled. What am I supposed to feed it to my wife and kids and just pray?

Bram Yotch said...

No it is not a joke. There's furious debate online about how this woman should be left alone to sell her tainted products, as if some unknown agent of purification is loose hovering lovingly over small farms.

Ronald said...

Even that cow looks skeptical. Tell me another one, mooo!

Bix said...

No joke, raymond. Bram summed it up.

I think a civil, caring society should have in place mechanisms to test food sold to the public, and to prevent its sale if it is found to be contaminated. Society may pay for this through taxes (FDA) or through a private, independent party.

As we have seen, there are scrupulous food purveyors who knowingly sell contaminated product, and will continue to do so. (Stewart Parnell of Peanut Corporation of America knowing sold Salmonella-tainted peanuts. "Turn them loose," he said in an email. 9 people died, hundreds sickened.)

There is also melamine in milk that was knowingly sold and imported from China. We inspect only about 1% of imported goods. We import about 60% of our fresh fruits and veg, 80% of seafood. This bill (Food Safety Modernization Act S. 510) covers import safety. Opponents of this bill object to inspecting imports ... most seafood, for example, is raised and sold from small family businesses which opponents want exempted from oversight.

Suzanne said...

"It seems to me that if a person, or company, puts a product out on the marketplace that they know is harmful they should be liable for criminal negligence and could be sued for all they have." Like we do with the cigarette companies, right? And the makers of alcohol?

ElDoubleVee said...

That's why the executives of tobacco companies testified in Congress that they didn't believe that smoking caused cancer. If they KNEW it caused cancer then they would have been criminally liable. That's why they all said it, (and all lied under oath probably). There's also prominent labels on cigarettes stating that they are harmful, and the companies are being successfully sued for damages. Alcohol also has warning labels and moderate alcohol use has not be proven to cause harm. If a wine manufacturer knew their product was tainted with a pathogen, not normally found in wine, and they sold the wine anyway, they would be liable. The big deal is that the cheese was found to contain harmful Listeria, the maker was told it did, and still she decided to sell the product. It's the knowing you are selling a tainted problem that's the big deal. It isn't the selling of cheese, which has been implicated in heart disease, that's being debated it is the deliberate selling of harmfully tainted products, knowing that it could have dire health consequences.

Cars get recalled often for bad designs since once a company knows about the flaw they can be held responsible for damages in civil court. If they knew there was a flaw and sold the product anyway they would be held criminally responsible.

Sara said...

"....Like we do with the cigarette companies, right? And the makers of alcohol?"

What a silly comment. Why check anything then? It's contaminated? Who cares, put it on the shelf!!!

Claudia said...

"as if some unknown agent of purification is loose hovering lovingly over small farms."
I'm still laughing at that!!

The unfortunate fallout of this Estrella story is that I don't trust small farm cheeses anymore. I didn't know they were so risky.

Bix said...

I wanted to point out two particularly menacing aspects of Listeria:

1. It can continue to grow and reproduce at temperatures below 40 degrees F. Other bacteria, like Salmonella, have a hard time growing below 40. This is why deli meats and cheeses have been sources of Listeria outbreaks.

2. It is harder to become infected with Listeria (except if you are a pregnant woman), but more people die from Listeria infection if they get it. Wikipedia says ~25% of those infected with Listeria die, compared to about just 1% for salmonella infection.

Bix said...

I just looked up the incubation period for Listeria, that's the time between exposure (eating it) and first symptoms. It has a weirdly long incubation! Around 21 days on average, but up to 70 days - longer than two months!

Who really knows if someone did become infected with Estrella cheese. I sure can't tell you what I ate 2 months ago.

Matthew said...

You are correct about the long incubation period. For that reason cases of listeria are rarely traced back to their source, even if one is supected, as the contaminated batch of food has either been consumed or thrown away.

There is very little public awareness of Listeria or that it is a food borne infection. It causes meningitis or septicemia in elderly or immunocompromised adults. Miscarriage in pregnency. Also septicemia or meningitis in newborn babies via the infected mother, mortality in newborns is more like 50-70%.

These cases tend to be individual tragedies and don't make the news.

However in healthy adults Listeria is not much of a problem, I expect I could eat her cheese with little worry.

I do worry though about people dismissing the risk because of a belief that the cheese is pure and safe because of who made it and then feeding it to at risk groups like pregnent women.

Sarah McElwee said...

So far no one has mentioned the moral implications of Ms. Estrella's decision. She decided to continue to sell her tainted cheese even though she could possibly kill people just so she doesn’t lose some revenue. Shame on you Ms. Estrella, shame. What kind of human being are you? I would expect that behavior from some heartless corporation not from a small business owner. The FDA shouldn’t have to force a recall since human compassion should be the judge. What kind of people could possible think it is okay to sell potentially deadly food products? What is happening to this country? Where is the compassion and empathy?

Bix said...

Sarah, there was a bit in that Scott-Thomas article I linked to, Local Food Doesn't Mean Safe Food, that had me thinking something similar. She said:

"If a large-scale cheese maker refused to recall potentially tainted products for financial reasons, as the Estrella Family Creamery is doing, would it inspire dewy-eyed sympathy?"

The "for financial reasons" was the bit. I often hear, "My farmer doesn't do what he does because of the money, he does it because he loves what he does, he loves his customers." I want to believe this is the case here but I'm having difficulty.

I liked this phrase of yours:
"human compassion should be the judge"

There's a book I recently put on my wish list: "A Question of Values" by Morris Bermon. I just read a few reviews so I can't say much about it. But there does seem to be more of a monetary thrust than an ethical thrust in this country ... these days? Or has it always been there?

From one review:

"Berman pulls no punches in laying bare the truths about who we are, not just as a nation, but also as individuals wrapped up in the destructive pursuit of material excess."

America: "a country caught in a societal malaise of promoting external accumulation over internal compassion."