He is quick to point out that the food industry plays a major role in preventing food contamination and must continue to be interactive in control and management. He says farmers and processing plants invest millions each year to acquire and implement the latest in new technologies and procedures designed to reduce infection and contamination. But he warns that is not enough. And with the introduction and regularity of imported foods in the U.S. market, the challenge of preventing contamination and disease is increasing.

USDA-ARS scientist Robert Mangan agrees. Mangan is an entomologist and coordinator of the Kika de la Garza Sub-Tropical Agricultural Research Center in Weslaco, Texas, located just a few miles from nine international bridges linking the United States and Mexico. Tons of agricultural products move between the two countries each day including vegetables from Mexico and cantaloupes from Central America. Mangan is considered one of the leading experts on food imports from Mexico and Central and South America.

“It’s a misconception to assume that fruits and vegetables imported from Latin America are less safe than domestic varieties. In truth, licensing and permits for Mexican produce plants are the same as they are in the United States. We are just as likely to find food borne contamination in domestic produce as we do in imported varieties,” Mangan said. “The majority of problems we are seeing relative to food safety include problems in storage facilities, in shipping and distribution networks, at retail outlets and in consumer homes. There is no one person or industry to blame.”

McClung says we may be hearing more about food safety these days than ever before, but the problem has always existed.  He contends there are fewer problems on the farm and in the packing houses than ever before because of better education and regulation. But he and Mangan agree that microbial infections in food are very common and widespread and are difficult to prevent.

“It’s a problem we can not escape and one in which we dare not lower our guard. But by-and-large industry is doing a much better job today than ever before,” McClung says.

Mangan warns consumers to be ever mindful of washing fruits and vegetables and cleaning up afterwards.

“A little Clorox and water will go a long way in greatly reducing problems like Listeria and salmonella. It’s something we need to keep in front of the consuming public as much as we do food producers and suppliers. Only then will we see improvement in the safety of our food,” Mangan adds.