Americans generally presume that their food supply is among the safest in the world. But two new reports indicate that U.S. food safety is anything but assured. And a bill recently introduced in Congress underscores the concern many have for the food supply.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., introduced the Safe Food Act, a bill to create a single agency responsible for ensuring the safety of the U.S. food supply. ?Our current food safety system has turned into a food fight among 35 federal agencies,? said Durbin. Such fragmentation results in duplication of services and confusion, he said. If the Safe Food Act passes, it would create the Food Safety Administration, which would inspect food processing plants, oversee imported foods and implement a system to trace foods to their points of origin. Traceability becomes important in the event of an outbreak of foodborne illness.
In October, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration released a report highlighting produce as a frequent source of contamination and illness. Factors leading to illness include improper holding time and temperature (49 percent of retail produce departments); problems with contaminated equipment, such as failing to sanitize surfaces and utensils (21 percent); and poor personal hygiene (22 percent).
As a result, FDA plans to develop commodity-specific guidance for produce handling, as well as guidance for hygiene. It also plans to issue rules related to growing and consuming sprouted seeds, and to inspect facilities more often, trace contaminated products, promote research, and improve communication between government agencies.
In another report, the General Accounting Office found ?weaknesses? in the food-recall system. ?Specifically [the Department of Agriculture] and FDA do not know how promptly and completely the recalling companies and their distributors and other customers are carrying out recalls, and neither agency is using its data systems to effectively track and manage its recall programs. For these and other reasons, most recalled food is not recovered and therefore may be consumed,? the report said. Currently, food recalls are voluntary.
The GAO recommended that Congress consider legislation requiring companies to notify FDA or USDA if they have distributed unsafe food and to give agencies the authority to ensure prompt and complete recalls.
Craig Henry, vice president of food safety programs for the National Food Processors Association, responded to the report, saying the current recall system is highly effective. ?The [USDA] and [FDA] already have all the power they need to assure that foods are recalled if necessary.?
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXV/number 12/p. 1