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Clock Is Ticking On FDA: Where Did the Bad Tomatoes Come From?

While we are all wondering how long those federal teams will remain in those tomato fields in old Mexico and south Florida,  we thought it might be a good time to offer a little editorial opinion of our own.

Two weeks ago, on June 11th, the New Mexico Department of Health issued a time-line covering their early involvement in the outbreak of Salmonella Saintpaul caused by bad tomatoes.  That PDF file document can be found here.

Some key moments:

  1. May 11 – First illness in New Mexico.
  2. May 21 – Salmonella Saintpaul identified
  3. May 22 – New Mexico contacts the Centers for Disease Control
  4. May 23 – New Mexico makes outbreak known to public
  5. May 30 – FDA joins "conference call" with New Mexico

We’d love to know more about why it took FDA a week and day longer than CDC to get up and running on this outbreak.   Is that the fast response the HHS Secretary is promising if FDA gets to open an office in Latin America?

But let’s forget that for a moment.   Let’s focus on next Monday, June 30th.   On that date, FDA will have been on the case for a full 30 days.  One month.   If the largest and best funded food safety agency on the planet cannot find the source of the bad tomatoes by then, heads should roll.

With Katrina and the FBI’s Anthrax investigation, the bar for performance from the federal government these days is so low that FDA will probably crawl under it.