No official food tasters for inaugural events, but FDA says it’s hunting for poisonous pathogen

by Andrew Schneider on January 17, 2013

To the best of my knowledge, U.S. presidents don’t have official food tasters protecting them from poisons as ancient Roman emperors did.

The Secret Services has a so-far successful (and undisclosed) system for picking the president’s rubber chicken from several hundred others being plated up for a banquet.

Food inspectors checking the temperature of chilled salads at President Obama's 2009 inaugural. FDA released photo

Nevertheless, the government says it’s doing its best to prevent the food poisoning of the enormous crowds clogging the the officials and street cart eating venues in Washington for the upcoming inaugural events.

It’s not intentional poisoning of tourists that the feds are protecting against. It’s pathogens, the food-borne bugs that have sickened or done worse to tens of thousands of diners every year.

This bacterial poisoning comes with consumption of salmonella-infected peanut butter or cantaloupe, E. coli-tainted beef and many types of leafy greens, listeria found in unpasteurized dairy products or pork plagued with yersinia enterocolitica.

The Food and Drug Administration’s commissioner, Dr. Margaret Hamburg, says her agency’s “focus will be on preventing food safety problems before they happen.”

She says that at the request of the Secret Service and D.C. Department of Health, a team of three dozen FDA agents and experts in retail foods and field inspection have been unleashed on the District of Columbia. They will be working with health departments in Maryland and Virginia as well as chefs and food services workers to make sure that the food served at the inaugural ceremony and parade, balls and galas is safe to eat.

The commissioner says her people will review menus and observe food preparation, storage and service in their search for dangerous microbes.

During President Obama’s first swearing-in fete in 2009,  she says her inspectors checked out more than 100,000 meals.

“Whether the lucky guests are at an inaugural ball or eating at a stand along the parade route, they can rest assured,” Hamburg said in a statement released Thursday,  “that the regulations are the same for both, and that FDA is doing its part to help ensure that the food we all eat will be safe.”

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