No Recipe Exchange this week, alas, so on a related topic, here’s hopeful news about an initiative to improve food safety by improving conditions for the workers who pick our crops:
MOSS LANDING, Calif. — With piles of fresh strawberries beckoning consumers at markets and stores this season, an alliance of a major retailer, fruit growers and farm workers has begun a program to promote healthy produce and improve working conditions.
The initiative, unfolding along neatly planted rows of berries at the Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce’s Sierra Farm here, is an effort to prevent the types of bacterial outbreaks of salmonella, listeria or E.coli that have sickened consumers who ate contaminated cantaloupes, spinach or other produce.
One of the workers, Valentin Esteban, is on the front lines of the new effort, having gone through a training program that helps him avoid practices that lead to possible bacterial contamination that could undermine the safety and quality of the strawberries he picks.
In exchange, Andrew & Williamson is providing Mr. Esteban better pay and working conditions than many migrant farmworkers receive, a base pay of $9.05 an hour versus the $8 average in the area.
“Sure, the money is important, but I also feel good because I am helping to improve quality and safety,” Mr. Esteban said. “Those things are important to my family, too.”
Last summer, more than 250 people in 24 states were sickened and three died after eating cantaloupes contaminated with salmonella. A year earlier, cantaloupe tainted with listeria killed 33 people.
The Food and Drug Administration laid the blame on conditions like stagnant pools of water and dirty surfaces in packing areas, problems that farm workers could help prevent.
“In those cases, the workers weren’t trained to address it or even recognize that those conditions might be problematic,” said Peter O’Driscoll, project director of Oxfam America’s Equitable Food Initiative. “Farm workers can be the eyes and ears of the farm, helping to improve food safety and pest contamination.” …
The tough part — as you cynics are sure to point out — is getting consumers to pay an extra few cents for their strawberries. The existence of a Starbucks outlet on every other corner convinces me this can be done, with the proper sales techniques. And for the pious purists on the other side of the aisle, yes, it’s a terrible thing that so many Americans can’t afford strawberries at all, but I still think paying the pickers something closer to a living wage is an improvement.