Tuesday, May 31, 2011 by Kathy Means
Which is safer: local produce or produce that has been shipped from outside your area? Which is safer: produce from small growers or large growers? Which is safer: produce grown in the United States or produce that is imported?
These are questions I posed recently to more than 300 dietitians on a webinar PMA helped sponsor for members of the American Dietetic Association (ADA). Of course, the point was that none of that matters. Pathogens and contamination are equal-opportunity offenders, and they don’t respect distance to market, size of operation, or borders.
This webinar allowed us to do polls, and the responses from the dietitians were both better and worse than I expected. On the first two questions (local vs. non-local and small vs. large) there were votes on both sides. However, on the U.S.-grown vs. imports, the answer was staggering. Ninety-nine percent said U.S.-grown product was safer than imports. And these dietitians are key consumer influencers. They may be dealing directly with consumers, or they may be making critical decisions for companies, health care providers, etc., about the foods those companies offer.
I explained to the group that government tests have shown very similar low contamination rates for imported and U.S.-grown product. And I reminded them of (again rare) outbreaks that were traced back to both U.S.-grown and imported produce. Given how much our industry relies on imports to supply consumers’ desire for year-round abundance of fresh produce, it’s essential that we continue to get the word out.