The perils of purchasing safe food - opinion

When food is able to be sold without anyone noticing what extra horrifying objects are contained in their bags, the only conclusion is that human oversight is either sorely lacking or non-existent.

 THE WRITER’S photograph shows the photo and caption that appeared in the ‘Post’ last week regarding Sunfrost frozen food. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
THE WRITER’S photograph shows the photo and caption that appeared in the ‘Post’ last week regarding Sunfrost frozen food.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

While doing my weekly shopping a few days ago, I suddenly remembered that I needed vegetables. What could be easier than walking over to the frozen food section and buying a few bags of pre-packaged, pre-cut veggies? It was then that I recalled a small photo in The Jerusalem Post on August 22, showing Sunfrost products with a caption which said “Red Light.” It revealed the discovery of a dead mouse, piece of a snake, bird parts, a snail and the fragment of a latex glove, all having been found in their products. Needless to say, I did a hard pass on the frozen vegetables.

As memory serves me correctly, it wasn’t that long ago that Strauss announced a recall of several of their brands after having discovered the presence of salmonella, both in their chocolates as well as their ice cream. Following reports of people who got sick and had to be hospitalized, stores and supermarkets wasted no time rushing to get these products off of their shelves.

The leading frozen vegetable company in Israel, Sunfrost is owned by Tnuva, the largest food manufacturer in the country, established in 1926. Sunfrost’s extraordinary marketing strategies were responsible for catapulting the company to become a trusted household name in every Israeli family home, as well as enjoying the association of quality products purchased by every citizen. In the first quarter of 2022, they reported net profits of NIS 4.8 million, a 20% increase over the corresponding quarter last year.

Strauss, an international food and beverage company, is no less well-known in the Israeli food market. It also boasts being the largest food company that produces coffee, water and soft drink distribution, dips, spreads, cereals, bakery products and more. In the first quarter of 2022, the company reported approximately NIS 2.2 billion in revenue, despite their recall at the end of April (www.strauss-group.com, May 25). Even though there had been a decline of 79% in net income, the company still managed to stay very much afloat.

THESE ARE two hugely successful Israeli companies that clearly have one thing in common – a very serious problem with their respective quality control departments. Because when food, which is about to be consumed by the public, is able to be packaged and sold without anyone noticing what extra horrifying objects are contained in their bags, the only conclusion is that human oversight is either sorely lacking or non-existent.

 WOLT FOOD delivery drivers in Tel Aviv.  (credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90) WOLT FOOD delivery drivers in Tel Aviv. (credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)

In the case of Strauss, the Salmonella bacteria was found in “finished products, raw materials and the production environment.” 

Consequently, the hospitalization of two children diagnosed with Salmonella, as well as symptoms suffered by a 37-year-old woman after eating large quantities of chocolate the same morning, were incidents with possible links to the manufacturer, Strauss.

In the case of Sunfrost, the CEO of Tnuva, Eyal Malis offered the following statement: “We apologize to customers and consumers and accept full responsibility. We are thoroughly examining the quality control of sorting in the factory with the assistance of experts from abroad. Based on a professional opinion, we believe there is no danger to the health of the public.” (“Tnuva CEO apologizes as Sunfrost Expands Recall,” August 23, www.en.globes.co.il)

However, the “professional opinion” upon which Sunfrost’s CEO was relying, an opinion which seeks to reassure the food-consuming public that ‘there is no danger to our health,’ is simply not mentioned by name. We are, apparently, supposed to settle into a state of blissful composure just because “someone” says that all is well!

Well, excuse me for having a few doubts, but I’d like to have a few more details concerning the identity of this individual, what his qualifications are and upon what basis he is so certain that there is no danger to the health of the public when rodents and possibly disease-carrying reptiles and bird parts end up in the same food that we intend to put on our plates.

Once that trust has been shaken, there is no question that many of us will think twice before purchasing packaged, as opposed to fresh, food. Yes, it may take a bit more effort on the part of those of us who look for cooking shortcuts, but I dare say it’s worth the extra minutes and the peace of mind, knowing that what is served to our families is free from the perils of disease and bacteria.

When thoroughly washing fresh produce, our own eyes are the best quality control managers, assuring that cleanliness and sanitary conditions have been fully met in a way that should put an end to the outsourcing of that job to others, who although they made a pledge to guard against such dangers, have been proven to always be unable to live up to those promises.

Pandemic

JUST AS with everything else these days, the message which is being sent loud and clear is that we must rely upon ourselves to safeguard most aspects of our daily lives – whether that involves coming to our own defense against criminals who might seek to harm us, second-guessing the advice of health officials – who have provided us with bad information on how to remain healthy during a more than two-year pandemic – or, in this case, making smart decisions about our food purchases in order to avoid deadly contamination.

Is it really too much to ask for companies, whose earnings are in the billions, to properly do the job which they are morally and legally obligated to do? The expectation is to provide a sterile, pristine environment where food products can safely go into their packaging without the risk of being polluted before they are hermetically sealed.

That means that nothing can invade the space of these factories. Birds, rodents, snakes or any other kind of varmint must be incapable of making its way into these plants. And, most importantly, corners should not be cut on vital personnel who must meticulously scrutinize every last morsel which goes into the packaging.

Yes, it may eat into the profits (pun intended), but at the end of the day, if the general public can no longer trust food manufacturing plants, then they may be hard-pressed to continue their existence. Because, after all, we the food consumers ultimately decide if the perils of purchasing pre-packaged food are so great that we opt out of buying from these food giants. Yes, in the end, it could be preferable to pay a little bit more for the tranquil knowledge that tonight’s dinner won’t be our last.

The writer is a former Jerusalem elementary and middle-school principal. She is also the author of Mistake-Proof Parenting, available on Amazon, based on the time-tested wisdom found in the Book of Proverbs.