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Why isn’t our food safer? 9/12
(This article is adapted from ConsumerReports.org.)

In June and July 2012, widespread recalls of bagged salad and cantaloupes were in the news because of potential Listeria contamination. In healthy people, Listeria can cause high fever, nausea, and diarrhea. But a Listeria infection can also cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women. In young children, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems, Listeria infections can be fatal.

As with earlier recalls of packaged salads, Consumer Reports food safety experts recommend buying bagged salad packages as far from their use-by date as possible. Even if the bag says "pre-washed" or "triple-washed," wash the greens yourself.

Rinsing salad greens won't remove all bacteria but may remove residual soil. And to prevent cross- contamination, keep fresh fruit and salad greens away from other foods especially raw meat. Scrubbing the outside of cantaloupes also is essential.

Delayed response

To prevent deadly food outbreaks, Congress revamped our food safety laws and passed new requirements that the President signed in January 2011--more than 20 months ago. The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which includes requirements for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to inspect foreign facilities, has been supported by the food industry and consumer safety groups—including Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports.

Yet today little has changed. Food manufactures, growers, and importers are still operating under the old, outdated laws that have led to foodborne illnesses in 48 million children and adults annually, including 3,000 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Why? The rules telling everyone exactly what they need to do differently are stuck in the White House ‘review’ process, and there is no sign that they will be un-stuck anytime soon.

According to Jean Halloran, director of Consumers Union's Food and Product Safety Campaign, the U.S. law has stalled in the Office of Management and Budget, which must authorize publishing the regulations in the Federal Register for pubic comment before FSMA can be implemented.

And while the OMB review process was to take no more than three months since it began in December 2011, OMB has yet to move on FSMA.

As recent recalls show, this new law is critical for preventing, rather than just reacting to the outbreak of deadly foodborne illnesses. Our food imports have tripled over the past decade and we've seen more contaminated fruits and vegetables on the market -- two important areas the new law addresses.

The rules will set new standards to prevent produce contamination through water, worker hygiene and manure, and they will make food importers verify the safety of their products. Food manufacturers here at home also will have to create plans to identify and deal with possible contamination. But first, the government needs to act.

Related links

Consumers Union's Not In My Food website, www.notinmyfood.org.

FDA Food Safety Gateway website.

Safer Shopping at the Supermarket. 8/12

Safer eats: How to avoid foodborne illness. 7/12

U.S. stops orange juice imports due to fungicide. 1/12

Video: Protecting our food supply. 10/11

U.S. Senate passes historic food safety bill. 11/10

 
Copyright © 2003-2012 by Consumers Union of United States., Inc., 101 Truman Avenue, Yonkers, NY 10703, a nonprofit organization. No downloading, transmission, photocopying, or commercial use permitted. Visit www.GreenerChoices.org.