Incompetence rewarded in salmonella outbreak

After 40 days and nights, God turned off the rain. That's how the story of Noah's Ark ends - and as the recent salmonella outbreak winds down, there are some eerie similarities.

When the salmonella outbreak began three months ago, the FDA and CDC promised to get a quick handle on the situation. They are now proclaiming tomatoes (the original focus of their investigation) safe to eat again - but not because of anything these government agencies did. The only reason we're getting relief from the outbreak is that the salmonella contamination - wherever it was coming from - seems to have more or less run its course. God turned off the rain.

But while we can be happy that the outbreak is easing, we shouldn't forget the completely inept way the FDA and CDC handled the situation. As the outbreak sickened over 1,000 people in 42 states, the FDA and CDC provided more questions than answers. First they weren't sure the outbreak was coming from tomatoes. Maybe it was peppers, or cilantro Maybe the outbreak was coming from Mexico. Maybe it was Florida.

It was like watching a couple of JFK conspiracy theorists chewing the fat. Maybe it was the CIA. Maybe it was the Mafia. Maybe it was the Cubans.

It would be funny, except this went on for three months! And they never figured it out.

So what's the lesson here?

The truth that was exposed during the salmonella outbreak is that the FDA in particular has absolutely no handle on America's food industry. The organization in charge of overseeing food safety was unable to generate even educated guesses as to the source of a disease outbreak. It makes you wonder how effective we can ever reasonably expect the FDA to be at safeguarding our food supply.

By now you probably have learned that you can never be 100% positive of the origin of anything you buy at the store. But it's going to be disheartening for many folks to learn the FDA doesn't have any idea either.

The lesson for all of us is that we need to take personal responsibility for making sure the foods we eat are safe. We can't rely on some government bureaucrats to do it for us. Assume nothing. If that bag of supermarket vegetables comes from some place you're not too keen on, take a pass. Pay a little more and hit a local farmer's market instead. When you buy beef - which I hope is often, because you need the protein - cook it thoroughly.

But, whatever you do, don't assume that, just because something is being sold at your local supermarket, it somehow must have passed through a rigorous safety process. The salmonella outbreak taught us that these processes, at worst, don't exist - and, at best, are completely ineffective.

As I've told you many times regarding health care, diet, and plenty of lifestyle choices, we're on our own. We have to take responsibility for ourselves. Because the salmonella outbreak taught us that, when it comes to our food, the FDA and CDC don't know anything - and they probably haven't learned anything either.