Normally my blogs are light hearted and meant to provide some thought provoking ideas in entertaining ways. Today's blog does not have that tone.
On February 21st, a recall for a soft cheese was issued due to high amounts of Listeria monocytogenes. Virginia and Maryland have been investigating the products from the manufacturer, but the sad truth is there has been a death associated with this disease. Adding to the sadness is that the CDC is not reporting the age of the person who died, but nearly half of the reported sick were newborns.
You see, Listeria monocytogenes passes very easily from pregnant women to their fetuses. Often, fetuses or newborns are sick and the mothers don't have any symptoms. To a normal, healthy person, Listeria monocytogenes can feel like nothing, or it can feel like a bad cold or the flu. But to the immune compromised, like infants, it can be deadly.
I have a four month old at home. He's cute as a button and loves to smile. However, as I read the report and learn that there is a high concentration of bad product delivered to Virginia, I wonder how many close calls we may have had. I actually bought this cheese on Friday the 21st, the day of the recall. I haven't purchased it in years, but on Friday I did. I read about it this morning (Monday 2/24) and what I've learned is that this problem has been going on since August of 2013. Many of the cases of illness occurred in November. My son was born in October. He was in the heat of this mess and I had no clue.
I have spent an uncharacteristic amount of time looking at my son's picture today. Not exactly because of this incident, but it has made me think about the trust that we put into the manufacturing of our food. This incident didn't happen over seas and shipped here. This happened in the U.S. in a U.S. based plant. The manufacturer had the responsibility to keep this food safe for our (consumers) consumption. What I'm reading is that no matter how well they thought they were doing, it wasn't good enough.
And now this company is voluntarily pulling all the stock off of the shelves. I'm thankful for that. But I'm a business person too and I'm saddened that the recall will cost the company, and potentially its employees, a lot of money. If the factory has to close in order to clean, what happens to its employees during that time? Do they get paid or do they have to file for unemployment? Could this ruin the company?
I looked back at a blog we posted a year ago. For every reported listeria case, there are 2 unreported cases. This cheese issue appears to have started around August. However, through diagnosis rates and the difficulty in researching disease outbreaks like this, it is still affecting us - 6 months later. Reviewing that post, that means there are at least 16 other people who've gotten sick.
As a business, Kollmorgen understands that recalls cost money and time and so when we sell to our OEMs we often talk about this expense. The truth is we need to talk about it. The components an OEM or a manufacturer uses has consequences for the public at large. When Kollmorgen talks about listening to the customers of OEMs to develop a new product line, I think we pat our backs at a job well done. Good for us for thinking it through and improving wash-down timing and hygienic materials and products. We deserve to be happy because our efforts answer a need.
Today I'm very proud of my company for examining these issues, but I challenge us to do more: to continue listening to the end users, to continue speaking with OEMs and manufacturers, and to continue to develop solutions. Because even though there are many reasons that lead to an outbreak of this sort, it doesn't matter. I still have a container of cheese at home that I will need to throw out. I was pregnant with my son during a time this disease was affecting pregnancies. I am in a state that has proven the listeria monocytogenes are in our grocery stores. And I wonder what else can be done? Because even though I understand the business selling points and the expense of a recall and the costs to avoiding recalls - I am also a mother. So I am asking Kollmorgen, manufacturers, OEMs, and other industries involved in our food preparation to take care with these issues. It affects more than the bottom line. It affects our kids, our parents, our grandparents, our co-workers, and our employees. Take care of us.