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The FDA's Food Citations So Far This Year

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One of the best aspects of the FDA -- and, really, most government institutions -- is the fact that all sorts of their information is made available to the public. (That is, information that doesn't give away the political assassinations/alien encounters/Bigfoot sightings they're clearly hiding from us all.) The trick is knowing where to find it.

Take, for instance, the gem of a section hidden in the innards of the FDA's website titled "Warning Letters."

They are, as the title suggests, letters alerting food and drug manufacturers that they've been found in violation of food safety rules, and they better shape up soon or risk the penalty. (Fines and/or seizures of the product are the main penalties threatened.) While the letters themselves are as dry as can be, they offer an insight into which rules the FDA is paying the most attention to.

In 2014 thus far, the they've issued a total of 11 warning letters. One was for a tobacco product, one for a dietary supplement, one for a medical device, one for an aloe manufacturer, and one for a drug company, leaving six others that are specifically food-related. So, for some fun and education -- let's call it funducation? -- here's a round-up:

- North Florida Holsteins, the single largest dairy in Florida and home to 4,800 cows and 4,400 heifers (young cows), was cited when their cows tested positive for an illegal drug, specifically desfuroylceftiofur, a residue marker of the antibiotic ceftiofur. Basically, it means the company's been using too many antibiotics on their cows, a big no-no seeing as the continual practice of heavy antibiotic use risks the creation of superbugs that will kill us all.

- Ed Fields & Son, a vegetable ranch in Minnesota, was cited for using too much pesticide in their parsnips. Specifically the herbicide Linuron, which they used up to five times the legal amount.

- Serpe & Sons, a bakery out of Delaware, got themselves one tongue-lashing of a letter for 13 different health violations. Among them, cobwebs above the roll-making machinery, staff members with "visibly dirty sweatshirts," a pair of boots being stored on racks also used to store clean trays, and this golden nugget regarding pastry racks that had to keep outdoors due to lack of room in the kitchen:

A flock of birds flew over the racks, and then rested on the top of them.

Yikes. Get a (bigger) room!

- Doughty Valley Holsteins, a dairy operation in Ohio, was cited for giving their cows the antibiotics Sulfamethoxazole and Trimethoprim Double Strength Tablets, which can only be administered in certain cows with certain permission. They did not have it.

- Iowa Orchard, a produce farm in Iowa, was cited for having high levels of Patulin, a natural-forming mycotoxin, in their apples. The acceptable level is 50 parts per billion, and Iowa Orchard's apples were tested at 62.5 and 55.7 in two separate tests.

- ConAgra Foods, the packaged foods empire that makes everything from Slim Jim to Healthy Choice and Swiss Miss, was cited for their sunflower seed plant in Missouri not being up to code. Among the issues: samples testing positive for Listeria, workers not handling the area where "Ranch Flavored Sunflower Seeds" were prepped in proper fashion, and gloves not being used.

So, what are we to make of all of this? A few things.

On the one hand, it seems as though the FDA's taking the threat of antibiotic and pesticide overuse seriously. That's good news. On the other hand, it's troubling that the FDA has only sent out six food-related warning letters so far this year. Certainly, there are more violators than that. Which means, this is probably a good reminder to read your labels and try to buy organic when you can.

Oh, also: Don't eat ranch-flavored sunflower seeds. Ever.

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