It’s been a really bad week for hummus


(Deb Lindsey / The Washington Post)

Now would be a good time to check the hummus that's been in your fridge for so long and think about throwing it away.

A plant in Texas is voluntarily recalling 14,860 pounds of hummus after a routine inspection by the Food and Drug Administration found a risk of contamination.

No illnesses have been reported, and the recall is minor in comparison to the 1.8 million pounds of ground beef also recalled this week. But it is still worrisome for consumers who bought the affected products. Those include several kinds of hummus packaged by Giant Eagle, Tryst and Target's Archer Farms brand, as well as some Trader Joe's units with expiration dates in April. The full list is here.

The products may contain listeria, which can cause fever, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea. Infections can be fatal for small children and the elderly and can lead to miscarriage.

It's been a bad week for hummus. Separately, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has released new details on the death of Daniel Collazo, a worker at hummus-maker Tribe's factory in Taunton, Mass., who was killed by a machine in 2011. (Tribe's hummus products are not connected in any way to this week's recall.)

As The Boston Globe reported, Tribe had been fined for failing to adhere to standard procedures that probably would have prevented Collazo's death, and the company had hired a consultant who told them that if they did not change their practices, a death was "likely certain" within a year. Collazo died a year and a half after that warning, and OSHA concluded that Tribe "willfully ignored" the risks because they would have been too costly to address.

A Tribe spokesman told the Globe that the company had conducted a review after the incident and made changes to its procedures.

Preventing listeria contaminations is not OSHA's responsibility, but worker safety is. Collazo's story is more evidence that the administration, hamstrung by Congress, is struggling to effectively enforce its standards. The fines the agency levied initially -- $9,500 -- were not enough to persuade Tribe to do the right thing. Advocates for workers say Tribe and other companies often regard such fines as the price of doing business when the cost of making improvements is greater. They also argue that OSHA has too few inspectors to provide effective oversight.

"The penalties are woefully inadequate, and the manpower is certainly inadequate," said Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, the director of the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health.

Goldstein-Gelb said that Collazo had been working for a temporary employment agency. Temp workers, she said, often lack adequate training and may hesitate to complain to their employers about unsafe conditions because they can be easily dismissed. According to a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 654,030 temporary workers in manufacturing in 2008. By comparison, the sector employed 13.5 million people that year. The number of temporary workers in blue-collar jobs and in the economy as a whole has increased steadily for the last two decades, and Goldstein-Gelb argued that Congress should make clear that employers have the same responsibilities to temporary personnel as to regular workers.

Max Ehrenfreund is a blogger on the Financial desk and writes for Know More and Wonkblog.
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