Nestlé Talks Cookie Testing

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By Consumers Union on Monday, August 10th, 2009


According to a Centers for Disease Control update by way of the Food Poisoning Journal: Preliminary results of the investigation “indicate a strong association (of the E. coli strain) with eating raw prepackaged cookie dough,” though the FDA is still trying to figure out the exact cause of the contamination. In late June, the agency announced that it found a strain of E. coli O157:H7 in a sample of the recalled Nestlé cookie dough, but the culture did not match the outbreak strain.

The biggest mystery is that this particular strain of E. coli is usually only found in beef. Scientists and experts are stumped as to how this strain got into cookie dough. The rest of us are just grossed out.

So far, 80 persons from 31 states have been sickened. Of those cases, 70 have been confirmed by advanced DNA testing as having the outbreak strain, 35 have been hospitalized, and 10 developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a serious condition. Nestlé has recalled 3.6 million packages of cookie dough along with a long list of related products.

As the Senate prepares to take up legislation to reform food safety and upgrade the FDA, the GM of Nestlé talks about their process to find the cause of E. coli contamination in cookie dough and the cost to business and workers from unsafe food.

“In this economy and these times, that’s the last thing we wanted to do is shut our factory down and keep people from working. So it was the right decision from the consumer’s sake, but a tough one for the employees,” Bakus said.

That “could have” is why Nestle says they’ve decided to increase their testing. “On some of the inbound ingredients, we’re running 100 tests a day.” Bakus said.

But those decisions didn’t come cheaply. “We estimate the cost to be around $30-50 million. But, it’s not so much the cost that I’m worried about, it’s getting the product back on the shelves and regaining consumer confidence.”

Just a reminder that until strong food safety legislation has passed both chambers of Congress, and a final bill has been signed by the President, food recalls like the Nestle cookie recall are voluntary. The reform proposals in Congress would give the FDA the power to order a recall. The legislation would also order high risk plants to be inspected at least annually compared to the current FDA track record of inspections once every 10 years on average.
To help pass strong food safety reforms click here!

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