A government program that tests produce for dangerous pathogens has been given a reprieve from the chopping block — but only for five more months.
The 11-year-old Microbiological Data Program works with labs across the country to screen about 15,000 annual samples of produce and report problems to relevant authorities. Based in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the program has a budget of $4.3 million and is the biggest such testing effort in the nation for produce.
On Monday night the USDA said that the program “does not align with USDA’s core mission” but that it would continue the testing through December.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said she was pleased to hear that the program was temporarily spared but it deserves to survive longer than five months.
“It is unacceptable for this crucial, cost-effective program to be eliminated. I look forward to working with my colleagues and the administration to ensure … we can continue to collect this important data to enhance our food safety,” DeLauro said.
Produce was responsible for a third of all multi-state foodborne illness outbreaks last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Food safety researchers and advocates say this significant contributor to illness is under-monitored.
“Over the last several decades it's become clear that fresh produce is an increasing part of the food (safety) problem,” Robert Tauxe, deputy director of the Division of Foodborne, Waterborne and Environmental Diseases at the CDC, told the Tribune last year. “In contrast to the pathogen data available for meat and poultry … there is essentially nothing on produce, and MDP is an attempt to create that.”