Reveal: Update: Farm to fork – uncovering hazards in our food systems

This week, Reveal revisits an hour of stories dedicated to food. We take a look at the complicated networks of labor, trade and regulation that carry meat, produce and other products to our tables.  – By Julia B. Chan, Reveal, Top Image: Allison McCartney for Reveal.

If you haven’t heard it before, we’ll upend your ideas about what kind of chicken is most susceptible to salmonella, unveil the secret history of pesticides that fuel the modern strawberry industry and look at a workers movement in Florida that’s transformed the tomato-picking business from the ground up.



The fowl business of salmonella

Sick Chickens
Free range chickens are seen in a field at Gunthorp Farms, a 225 acre free range turkey, chicken and pig farm Monday, May, 11, 2015 in Lagrange Indiana. Greg Gunthorp along with his family run a small high end poultry farm that supplies chicken to some higher end restaurants in the Chicago, Indiana and Michigan area. (Photo/ Darren Hauck for Center for Investigative Reporting)

In the U.S., even chicken that has passed all federal food safety requirements still can make people sick.

This proved true in 2013 after a massive salmonella outbreak linked to Foster Farms sickened hundreds of people in 29 states.

But even with reforms in the works, the U.S. government still allows companies to sell chicken that is infected with salmonella. See how:



So how can you avoid it? Do you abstain from buying factory farm chickens and go for the local ones? How about raising chickens in your own backyard? Reporter Katharine Mieszkowski and producer Jillian Weinberger take us on a salmonella road trip and expose a massive gap in our food safety system. Tips for safer chicken.


From the battlefields to the strawberry fields

Strawberries used to be a delicacy. The fruit is fragile, prone to disease and requires a very particular climate to grow.

But these days, you can buy strawberries almost anywhere at any time – including in Barrow, Alaska, a polar community with an average annual temperature of -9 degrees Fahrenheit.

So how did strawberries become so ubiquitous, and what are the consequences for farmworkers? The answer takes us on a meandering tour back to World War I, the Hawaiian pineapple fields of the 1930s and a savvy marketing campaign in the 1970s and ’80s.



When working conditions are ripe for change

Immokalee Tomatoes
Jon Esformes (left), co-CEO of Pacific Tomato Growers, shows his new strawberry farm to Reveal’s Al Letson (right). In the center is farm manager Buddy Hill.
CREDIT: Jonathan Miller/Homelands Productions for Reveal

About one-third of the fresh tomatoes sold in the U.S. come from Florida. Mainly migrant workers from Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean hand-pick the tomatoes in or near the town of Immokalee, just north of the Everglades.

For decades, Florida tomato pickers endured some of the worst working conditions in America. Beatings, rape and sexual harassment were common problems. Often, there were no toilets, shade or clean drinking water. Work hours were unpredictable and wages were extremely low. There were even cases of slavery.

In 1993, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers began to organize. At first, it focused on ending slavery in the fields, then expanded its work to deal with wage theft and abuse. In 2001, it launched the Fair Food Program. The group brought about change by pressuring large retailers to use their market muscle to demand higher standards from suppliers.

Host Al Letson and producer Jonathan Miller of Homelands Productions travel to the Sunshine State to tell us what happened after the tomato workers organized, pushed for reform and got the public to help.

Reveal is a weekly radio program produced by The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX. For more, check out our website and subscribe to our podcast.




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