The Food Safety Summit is a conference that convenes experts from all across the country to discuss industry standards that promote food safety. The irony of this year’s Food Safety Summit is the investigation of whether food poisoning is the reason that over 100 attendees got sick.
The 2014 Food Safety Summit was held earlier this month in Baltimore, Maryland. Although none of the attendees that fell ill were hospitalized, over 100 of the 1,300 conference attendees did report symptoms like diarrhea, according to health officials.
No one at the Food Safety Summit held April 8-10 in Baltimore was hospitalized, but most of the 100 affected attendees reported cases of nausea and diarrhea.
A representative of the Maryland Department of Health said earlier this week that it has not yet been confirmed whether or not this is a case of food borne illness, or something that was transmitted from one person to the next.
Reports and complaints of symptoms began taking place approximately one week after the Food Safety Summit wrapped up, which prompted the Baltimore City Health Department to inspect CenterPlate, the in-house caterer used at the Baltimore Convention Center where the conference took place. A violation was issued because of a faulty ice machine, according to Michael Swartzberg, a health department spokesman.
Wanting to drill a bit further, the state health department surveyed all summit attendees on April 17. Of the 400 that sent a response, more than 100 people reported food poisoning-like symptoms.
“We are working on evaluating possible exposures and doing testing at the Maryland state public health laboratory to attempt to identify an agent,” health officials stated in a letter to attendees.
The Food Safety Summit attracts some pretty big names in the food industry, including the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Also in attendance are big players like McDonald’s and ConAgra Foods. It is unclear whether representatives of any of these companies and federal departments were among the 100 attendees that got food poisoning at the Food Safety Summit.
This ironic event may be just one example of a much more pervasive issue in the nation’s food safety practices. Some experts believe that many of the above-mentioned players are some of the worst violators, with mass food production being a likely culprit in widespread food contamination. According to Food, Inc., a 2008 documentary which explores the unhealthy practices of corporate farming and food production, the FDA conducts far less food inspections today than in the past. In 1972, 50,000 food safety inspections were conducted by the FDA, as compared to just 9,164 in 2006.
Other concerns presented in literature and research presented in films like Food, Inc., include a “revolving door” pattern of stakeholders moving between the government and food corporations. For instance, stakeholders in large agribusiness companies like ConAgra Foods eventually get appointed into roles with the FDA, USDA or other food- and agriculture-regulating federal bodies. For example, the head of the FDA during the Bush administration, Lester M. Crawford Jr., was the former Vice President of the National Food Processors Association. This type of practice begs the question of whether food quality and safety or stock profit is truly the main priority of official decision-makers.
In addition, small-scale producers, which are generally thought to be more careful in their production and inspection of products, have been gobbled up by just a few larger producers. The average supermarket tricks the average American into believing they have options at the grocery store, when in reality, the estimated 47,000 products in a supermarket are produced by only just a handful of companies.
The full list of attendees at the 2014 Food Safety Summit, where over 100 attendees allegedly got food poisoning, can be examined on the Food Safety Summit Expo and Conference website.
By Erica Salcuni