OTTAWA, Ill. — Many consumers like Monty Whipple, who farms and is president of the La Salle County Farm Bureau, expect little or no backlash to U.S. meat and produce sales following the tainted and expired meats safety issue currently hounding China.
"I don’t worry too much about it," he said. "Common sense plays a role in a lot of this. Farmers rely on a big demand for our products and we try to do everything we can to ensure that demand stays stable."
Thomson Reuters reported in a news item last week that McDonald’s Corp. suspended sales of chicken nuggets and similar meats in Hong Kong about a week ago. This was after the fast food entity said it imported products from Shanghai Husi Food.
Shanghai Husi is the U.S.-owned Chinese company at the center of the food safety scare in China. According to Reuters, McDonald’s said certain products were imported from Shanghai Husi from July 2013 to June of this year, but that none of these items remain in stock.
Also, McDonald’s Holdings Co. in Japan said its chicken products business will be shifted from China to Thailand. In addition, the move would increase McDonald’s purchases from McKey (Thailand) Foods Services and Cargill Thailand. Whipple termed the expired meats incident a "scary situation … Whether it’s legit or not, because of the media attention to it," he said.
"I have no idea what the practical food safety standards are that China imposes. I assume they probably aren’t as good as we have (in the United States) so it’s not surprising that sometimes they might have a bad meat situation. You would think a (business) with credentials as good as McDonald’s would check and double-check every food product they use, making the risk of something like this very small."
He said he can see this kind of situation occurring more in the open food markets in China. He also thought it "a little strange" that an entity such as McDonald’s would allow something like the meat scares to occur. On the other hand, he did not know how big or widespread the issue has become.
"Once in awhile, even in the U.S., you’ll have a food scare, whether it’s produce that might have gotten something on it blown out of the fields, or not washed properly, or tainted meat or something," he pointed out. For the most part, however, these incidents are so scarce in the United States that the nation likes "to hang our hat on the fact the food is extremely safe in this country," he added.
Whipple doubts the China food incident will affect meat sales on wholesale and retail levels in the United States. He said the majority of people here know and understand there are other countries that may not have the same health safety standards. "I haven’t heard any repercussions or anything," he noted. "As far as I’m concerned, there have been no problems and I don’t anticipate any. I think anybody who’s reading this Farm World article should feel very safe in whatever they’re purchasing."
Whipple advocates consumers know at the time of purchase from where their food originated. Most food today is labeled with country of origin. This kind of labeling can help consumers decide whether they think that particular food item is entirely safe for consumption.
"I like to think our standards are top-notch and that we take pride in the fact our food is extremely safe," he noted. "I would think (Americans) have confidence in where they buy their meat or produce or canned goods. We do keep expiration dates on different products.
"Also, you have to know the people you buy them from – the grocery store, the butcher, the farmers’ market. You have to have confidence in them. I think anything that goes wrong (with food in the United States) is extremely rare."
Food still has to be safeguarded in the consumer’s home. Whipple recommends consumers follow the food safety precautions issued by county Cooperative Extension services in Illinois and nationwide.
"To safeguard the food after you’ve purchased it, make sure it’s properly washed and refrigerated," he said about garden produce and fruit. "I’m not saying every grape or every tomato that we buy is totally washed and fit for eating. Just use good diligence at home to rewash it and ensure it’s safe for anyone in your family who might be eating it."
A spokesman for McDonald’s at the corporate headquarters in Oak Brook, Ill., said Friday all media calls were being directed to public relations. The automated answering system at public relations announced that no calls were being accepted, however, and none would be returned.