Produce Safety Testing Program is Spared Budget Ax

By GARANCE BURKE | July 18, 2012

The Agriculture Department is extending the life of the nation’s main produce safety testing program, just as the initiative was slated to be shut down.

The tiny Microbiological Data Program extensively screens high-risk fresh fruits and vegetables every year for bacteria including salmonella, E. coli and listeria.

It risked being scrapped after President Obama’s proposed budget cut the effort’s funding, but USDA spokesman Justin DeJong now says the program will continue operating through December.

Public health officials and food safety advocates have said getting rid of the program would leave the country without a crucial tool used to investigate deadly foodborne illness outbreaks.

If samples test positive for bacteria, they can trigger nationwide recalls and keep tainted produce from reaching consumers or grocery store shelves.

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