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  • Welcome to a special edition of CNN STUDENT NEWS. I'm Carl Azuz.

  • Today, we're wrapping up our series on the U.S. food supplies, zeroing on produce.

  • This is our last installment of CNN special "Raw Ingredients",

  • taking a look at how engineering and importing have replaced old fashion growing

  • in the U.S. food industry and how consumer demand still has the power to influence the industry.

  • Our reporter Cristina Alesci has gone inside some of America's biggest companies,

  • seeing what most folks haven't seen before,

  • getting incredible insight as to how production affects what's on our plate.

  • Salads. Americans are eating up to five times more leafy greens than they did 20 years ago.

  • We're consuming three billion pounds a year.

  • But our intensifying love affair with fresh produce is creating problems for farmers,

  • for the environment, and even for our own health.

  • One in six Americans, that's 48 million people,

  • get sick from contaminated food each year, 3,000 die.

  • Don't you think it's coming from undercooked meat and fish?

  • Well, produce is actually responsible for about half of the illnesses.

  • Any industry that wants to produce safe foods, they can't do that.

  • Dr. Mansour Samadpour runs one of the nation's largest food safety consulting labs.

  • Chipotle recently hired his company to assess and improve safety standards

  • after the government traced an outbreak of E. coli back to some of its stores.

  • He stocks listeria and salmonella in his office.

  • This plate in theory is good enough to infect everyone in the city of Seattle.

  • How could you get so close to it?

  • Because they don't jump.

  • Recently, the risk associated with some fruits and vegetables have become so high

  • that the FDA began actively monitoring them for contaminants,

  • a historic move for the agency.

  • So, how serious is the industry when it comes to keeping our food safe?

  • We traveled across the country to find out.

  • It's sunrise in Salinas Valley, California.

  • This area is called the "Salad Bowl of America" and for good reason.

  • Its fields produce 60 percent of the leafy greens in the U.S.

  • I think farmers are the backbone of this nation, to be honest.

  • I climb up on this side, right?

  • So, this is water that does this, that cut this?

  • Yes, it's a water knife with extreme amount of pressure.

  • We're trying to attract better workers and a better working environment for our employees.

  • Dirk's family has been farming this land for four generations.

  • The amount of work that goes behind one head of lettuce is tremendous

  • and the basic consumer has no idea of the intensity and the dedication to a 10-acre block of romaine.

  • Farming in this part of the world has gotten really rough.

  • Farmers are fighting a drought, a labor shortage and rising prices for land,

  • even some insiders say the industrial process is pushed to the brink.

  • The president of Campbell's Fresh is one of them.

  • What is the state of the food system?

  • I would say that it's highly stressed.

  • The past 50 years of over-farming a lot of land has created real problems

  • on the global basis in terms of having enough irrigable farmland.

  • The word I've used is stressed almost from any dimension you look at.

  • And farming is just the beginning of the process. And yes, I mean, process.

  • How cold is it in there?

  • It's going to be about 34 to 36 degrees Fahrenheit in there.

  • The entire process is that cold.

  • Taylor Farms is the largest producer of fresh cut vegetables in the world.

  • Any given day, we're going to have a million pounds of product come through this cooler.

  • A million pound? A million pound of products. Wow.

  • Whether we dice, shred or shock,

  • they're going through several series of cutters

  • and they immediately fall down into the beginning of our wash process.

  • It kills Gram-negative bacteria, which is the bad stuff.

  • So, E. coli, salmonella and listeria.

  • Taylor spent millions on the so-called smart wash system

  • after spinach from another California company caused 200 people to get sick and killed three.

  • We can't eliminate. There's no kill step in our industry yet.

  • It's still fresh products, so you can't cook it or microwave it, or to do something like that.

  • How much of a setback was the outbreak in 2006 of E. coli?

  • I think that was a wake up call.

  • Beyond the human costs, it was a $350 million dollar setback to the industry.

  • The current assumption is that the food is safe until proven otherwise.

  • We have made a lot of people sick over the years.

  • You may be asking, how does a bacteria like E. coli or salmonella end up in your leafy greens?

  • It could be a variety of ways, but the most common answer is waste.

  • Manure is used to fertilize crops.

  • Animals like rodents or birds pick up the bacteria and then carry it into produce fields.

  • People need to kind of understand what they are eating, where it has been grown.

  • You're planning to travel to a country and they say,

  • when you go there, don't eat salads and don't drink water.

  • And then you find out that your salad is coming from that place.

  • In an appetite for year-round produce means the imports just keep coming.

  • Well, they always produces, but it wasn't the kind of importing that's being done now.

  • Every year, we import more and more fresh produce from foreign countries.

  • We found that in many of the outbreaks, it comes from foreign producers.

  • The government is trying to hold foreign producers to a higher standard,

  • with the Food Safety Modernization Act, or FSMA.

  • The most significant food safety law in 70 years.

  • The bill sets guidelines for how companies should prevent and respond to contamination.

  • It sounds great. The problem: funding.

  • How much more does the FDA really need to deal with outbreak?

  • Much more than what they have been asking for.

  • How much more?

  • I would say they need probably minimum 10 times more resources, 10 times more resources.

  • The agency says it needs about $170 million more.

  • A lack of money and people might be one of the reasons

  • the FDA has stopped short of requiring routine government inspections of farms,

  • according to critics.

  • Instead, it relies on third party auditors.

  • But the agency says the new law gives the industry an accountability that didn't exist before.

  • The goal it says is getting safer food to you.

  • But with 48 million people getting sick each year,

  • and an estimated $77 billion in costs, the price of failure is high.

  • Fresh food, it's what everyone wants to eat more of,

  • and the key to the healthy diet.

  • And technically, it's supposed to make shopping more simple.

  • There isn't a laundry list of ingredients on a bag of carrots, right?

  • But sometimes, shopping for raw ingredients could actually more confusing

  • than buying the packaged and processed stuff.

  • So, let me break it down for you.

  • After reporting "Raw Ingredients", people said, great, now that you've scared us,

  • what can we buy that's safe in the grocery store?

  • Should you buy organic produce? Well, it kind of depends.

  • The government tracks chemical residues on our fruits and vegetables.

  • The worst culprits: apples, berries, cucumbers and spinach.

  • It might be worth paying a premium for those.

  • Or you could stick to fruits and vegetables that have few chemical deposits.

  • Think onions, sweet corn, cabbage and eggplant.

  • The cleanest, avocados.

  • There is an emerging alternative, hydroponics, growing produce without soil,

  • which is supposed to be much cleaner than an open field.

  • Fish, you want it low in contaminants and high in omega 3s, the good fatty acids.

  • Seafood like mackerel, shrimp and wild salmon. Or look for pull caught fish.

  • Those tend to be younger, so they spent less time exposed to toxins.

  • But what if your local store only stocks farm-raised salmon?

  • Those can be higher in industrial chemicals stored in fish bag.

  • But experts say you can remove most of the bad stuff by trimming away or cooking of the fat.

  • But enough with the veggies and fish, how about the meat?

  • Now, the ideal here is find some companies that minimize antibiotics.

  • The CDC says that all those drugs in our meat

  • have created a public health threat known as a super bug.

  • So, look for these labels.

  • These third parties are supposed to ensure farmers are using drugs responsibly.

  • And here are a few marketing scams you should watch out for.

  • Terms like "natural and farm raised".

  • Those don't tell customers whether living conditions for the animals are horrendous or pristine.

  • And while "hormone free" chicken sounds great, the FDA bans those in chickens, turkeys and hogs.

  • Bottom line, eat fresh food, just ask a few more questions.

Welcome to a special edition of CNN STUDENT NEWS. I'm Carl Azuz.

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March 28, 2016 - CNN Student News with subtitle

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