Is Our Food Safe YET?

Sadly, our food inspection rules, though somewhat tightened recently, will not prevent you from getting sick if you consume a contaminated food that has somehow slipped through the ropes.

Food-borne illnesses cause about one in six Americans to get very sick every year, with 128,000 hospitalizations, and an estimated 3,000 deaths, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as Deborah Kotz reports at The Boston Globe.

My sister, who's never met a vegetable she didn't like, became seriously ill with food poisoning (doctors thought it might have been the arugula) about a week before her first son was due.  Happily, the baby was born healthy, though there was some concern initially that the contamination might have contributed to a neurological problem.

Kotz writes that the introduction of federal laws to regulate food safety, including rules on how produce is grown, harvested, and distributed throughout the country has officials hoping "they will be able to better prevent some tainted produce from getting to consumers."  She adds that new regulations will also require food processing plant manufacturers "to fix hazards on the assembly line that could contaminate pasta, baked goods, and other packaged foods."

So, is our food supply safe?  Not yet.

Kotz notes that there has been some governmental recognition of the dangers we all face from the foods we eat.  "The Food Safety and Modernization Act of 2010 directed the FDA for the first time to overhaul the agency’s monitoring of food safety, broadening its mission to include preventing pathogens from entering the food supply, rather than reacting after the fact."

The new law requires regular federal inspections of produce farms and food processing facilities and "grants the FDA authority to shut down companies that have hazardous operations," according to Kotz.  This, an attempt to prevent, in the future, such deadly events as a 2011 listeria outbreak — traced to cantaloupes grown on a Colorado farm that had poor sanitation practices — that killed 33 people and sickened nearly 150 more, Kotz recalls.

That's one of the reasons I don't always buy organic.  I have it in the back of my mind that yes, foods are definitely better for you without chemicals, but just how clean are the growing conditions, and the cleanliness out in the field?  Are restrooms available?  Can workers wash their hands?  Maybe I'm just ignorant about this but I suspect there's a little truth to it.

One more thing that the FDA will do (seems like common sense); it will now also be able to force a company to recall a potentially dangerous food.  Believe it or not, in the past, recalls were voluntary.


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