October 20, 2010


The constant ranting and raving against regulation and slovenly government employees feeding at the public trough has me thinking. Perhaps the detractors are right... maybe we could save a little money and do away with a few of those wasteful government employees...

...or maybe that isn't such a good idea.

Texas Department of State Health Services 

Oct. 20, 2010

DSHS Orders Sangar Produce to Close, Recall Produce  

The Texas Department of State Health Services today ordered Sangar Fresh Cut Produce in San Antonio to stop processing food and recall all products shipped from the plant since January. The order was issued after laboratory tests of chopped celery from the plant indicated the presence of Listeria monocytogenes, a bacterium that can cause severe illness.

State law allows DSHS to issue such orders when conditions exist that pose “an immediate and serious threat to human life or health.”

The recalled products – primarily cut fresh produce in sealed packages – were distributed to restaurants and institutional entities, such as hospitals and schools, and are not believed to be sold in grocery stores.

The testing was done as part of a DSHS investigation into 10 listeriosis cases, including five deaths, reported to the department over an eight-month period. Six of the 10 cases have been linked to chopped celery from the Sangar plant. The illnesses occurred in Bexar, Travis and Hidalgo counties. All of the illnesses were in people with serious underlying health problems.

Health officials said pinpointing a Listeria source is often difficult due to the small number of cases, the illness’ long incubation period and difficulty collecting complete information about what people ate.

DSHS inspectors also found sanitation issues at the plant and believe the Listeria found in the chopped celery may have contaminated other food produced there. The department found a condensation leak above a food product area, soil on a preparation table and hand washing issues. DSHS food safety personnel are contacting distributors, restaurants and institutions believed to have received the recalled products to ensure they are taking appropriate action to protect consumers.

DSHS continues to investigate possible sources of contamination and where the products were distributed. Sangar’s customers are advised to discard or return the products. Cooking the products is not recommended.

Symptoms of listeriosis can include fever, muscle aches, diarrhea and vomiting. People with these symptoms should consult a physician. Symptoms typically occur three to 70 days after exposure. The disease affects primarily older people, pregnant women, newborns and people with weakened immune systems.

The order prohibits the plant from reopening without DSHS approval.

The work that these underpaid, overworked regulators do is pretty much thankless. Much of what they do is never seen or ever noticed by the public. But if not for them who knows what kind of food supply safety we could expect? The wingers forever insist that business will regulate itself if we just let it, and perhaps that statement is correct to a large degree, but stories like this one prove it to be a pipe dream for a significant number of businesses. There are too many out there who just don't give a damn if their product kills a few old people.

There are plenty of good, caring business. It is a damn shame that those folks have to suffer for the actions of the dishonest... but it is absolutely necessary to have strict regulation.  Call it what you want... the regulators of this nation are all that stands between the innocent and the unscrupulous.



Old NFO said...

Two I can thing of are Dept of Energy- Their SOLE reason for being was to reduce our dependance on foreign oil... The other is the TVA- They were supposedly to electrify the Tennessee Valley...

TVA has completed that (back about 1960)

DOE has something like a 20 Billion budget and our dependance on foreign oil has actually gone UP!

Mule Breath said...

Of course i can't argue that there is misspent time, energy and budget in many of the regulatory agencies, just as there is in any large organization... public or private. You seem to be saying that the DOE has failed to even maintain its mission, and I can't offer a logical argument to refute that allegation.

My point, however, is not to defend these problems, but to define this illogical call for an end to regulation as a knee-jerk reaction to any perceived misstep by any regulatory authority.

About six years ago the department featured in my post was subjected to a severe "shrinking," and a consolidation with some strange bedfellows... based upon just such allegations. The result has been detrimental to the public.

Regulators are often all that stand between an innocent, unwary public and a cunning, unscrupulous fraud. Knee-jerk reactions create more problems than they solve.

Bob S. said...

Mule breath,

Don't you think that private organizations would step up to fill the void?

ISO 9001 for an example - yes there are problems but overall a remarkable example of private enterprises working to improve businesses.

Underwriter's Lab (UL) is another great example of a private agency that is dependable, trustworthy and recognized.

To remove a function from government doesn't mean that function would go unfulfilled.

Mule Breath said...

Bob, I've had some personal experiences that tell me privatization of regulation fails to meet the mark. They are ineffective now, and unless the industry standards organizations adopt ongoing inspection processes, they will remain without effectiveness.

ISO 9001 is a standard requiring certain accreditation processes. A company may achieve certification but there is no follow up to ensure continued compliance. As an example, The Transocean Deepwater Horizon was ISO 9001 certified. Unfortunately the rig was also under the sadly weakened regulatory authority of the MMS. Both failed.

UL has been around for decades. That standard applies only to product design and quality as submitted for an initial evaluation. If the manufacturer makes no design changes, the certification continues even if the quality of parts or standards is reduced. There is no effort to ensure the product consistently maintains the same quality of that submitted for the original certification.

Government regulation, so far, is the only measure that maintains ongoing inspection standards to ensure continued compliance. While sometimes onerous, I feel it is absolutely necessary.

Bob S. said...

Mule Breath,

Sorry to tell you are wrong but in the case of ISO 9001, I can definitely state you are.

Each registered company is audited annually. The first audit is a full system audit and the next two have to cover half the system each. Then the cycle repeats.

As to why 3rd party systems don't work is there is little economic incentive for them since the government regulates so heavily.

Take away the regulation and there become incentive to find a trustworthy recommendation.

Look at dining guides or the travel guides for example. There rating system means much because people trust them.

Unfortunately the rig was also under the sadly weakened regulatory authority of the MMS. Both failed.

Systems don't mean there won't be failures, heck the current regulatory system shows that. The choice is between restrictive governmental regulations or not.

Is it the place of the government to tell companies what bags sea food can be imported in or the amount of recycled material that must be in products?

Where do we draw the line and start rolling back some of the governmental over reach?

(sorry for not responding sooner, was out of town enjoying the weekend with my bride)

Mule Breath said...

Bob, Your message is so full of talking points that I really don't know where to begin, but... here goes.

You hold ISO up as some kind of pristine standard and point to annual recerts as a means of ensuring compliance. Sorry, but neither the original process nor the followup audits are very much more than smoke and mirrors. I speak from personal experience.

The original ISO process relies on what amounts to staged demonstration projects, and the audits are exercises in pencil whipping. All visits are pre-planned allowing the applicant to spit and polish. There are no unannounced inspections that might show real, day-to-day operations. When we have a chance to visit face to face I'll be happy to illustrate this a bit more in depth, but not on a public forum.

As for why the 3rd party system fails, there isn't enough room here for that discussion, but suffice it to say that it isn't as simple as economic incentive.

As for restaurant reviews, I rely on them regularly. They do a fine job keeping us informed on menu choices, food taste, quality of service and such... but who inspects the kitchen? The review sites won't spot the rotting chicken or rat turds. I rely on city or state health inspectors for that.

I can't comment on seafood bags or required recycled materials because I have no idea where that comes from, but is sounds like you've focused on some targeted overreach rather than the regulatory principle in general.

I understand how easy it is to focus on a couple of (or even several) regulatory excesses, so at this point I would like to qualify my feelings a bit. While I remain a strong proponent of government regulation, I recognize that the possibility of overzealousness. The possibility does not override the very real threat of placing the fox in charge of guarding the henhouse. We deal with the excess surgically, not tossing baby and bath water simultaneously.