Stewart Parnell, the former owner of Peanut Corporation of America, was convicted Monday for knowingly distributing salmonella-tainted peanut butter back in 2008, which killed nine people.
“When people stop following the rules, that’s when bad things happen,” said Keith Schneider, a professor in UF’s College of Food Science and Human Nutrition.
He said the easiest way to keep food uncontaminated is to follow the rules of food sanitation.
Schneider said that as long as food manufacturers and consumers practice systematic food regulations such as washing hands before touching food and keeping a clean work environment, the safety of food shouldn’t be in question. These are rules Parnell failed to acknowledge.
Schneider said there isn’t a way for people to tell if their food is contaminated because the bacteria are too small.
University of Florida student Ashton James said he is cautious about the types of food he eats because of situations like PCA and Parnell.
James, 21, said he eats pretty healthy and doesn’t eat a lot of processed, packaged food. But when food he counts on to bulk up with, like peanut butter, become affected, he gets worried.
Even though peanut butter contamination hasn’t been in the news since PCA’s allegation, James said this makes him not want to put peanut butter on any of his food, like his burritos.
“Now I have to start looking into where my food comes from,” he said.
Schneider said for larger food manufacturing companies, it all comes down to routine sanitation.
If a routine sanitation comes out positive, then there’s no reason to further test a product because the regulations it was packaged under were sanitary, he said.
But even then, both pre-packaged and natural foods can already contain infected pathogens, which are impossible to test for, he said.
Kenstin Nnaj, a UF nutritional sciences sophomore, said when outbreaks with food occur, he doesn’t eat that food again for about a year. “People (manufacturers) need to make sure their food is safe to eat,” Nnaj, 19, said.
It’s not always someone else’s fault, he said in reference to Parnell’s case, but people need to take control of their health and follow rules.
Schneider said about 3,000 people will die from a bad meal every year. Still, food borne illnesses are very rare.
He said the chances of getting a food borne illness is like winning the lottery — “about one in 50 million.”
Schneider said just about every type of food has the same risk – no matter if it’s organic or pre-packaged. The determination of how safe our food is all begins with following good sanitation practices, he said.
“If you follow the rules, good things happen,” he said.