Dinner Tables to Operating Tables: U.S. Food Safety Program Doesn’t Keep Us Safe

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Annually, food borne contaminants cause an average of 5,000 deaths, 325,000 hospitalizations, 76 million illnesses, and cost billions of dollars annually [1]. Once considered a comfort, the rise in highly processed foods with little accountability, has made eating a dangerous endeavor.  Current U.S. legislation does not grant the needed authority to the several government select agencies to protect the American people and therefore improvements must be made.

The U.S. has more than a dozen federal, state and local agencies that are tasked to regulate the national food safety system to include the USDA and FDA. Though each may strive to fulfill their missions, they are constrained by the law which grants no authority to require tracking, maintenance and access to records on foods.  In the case of food contamination, the FDA can only ask companies to initiate voluntary recall rather than mandate one. 

Several interest groups have taken a stand against this irresponsible and potentially harmful behavior forming the Make Our Food Safe Coalition. The organization seeks to bridge the gap in oversight through urging improvements in current legislation. And while its commitment is unwavering, support from food consumers is necessary to ensure real and timely change.

That support for change is more widespread today than ever before: a recent Pew survey regarding the American view of food contamination: 90% would support the federal government’s implementation of new food safety measures. In fact, 72% would even be willing to pay higher grocery costs to ensure safe food [2]. Clearly both interest groups and citizens are seeking improvements in food safety regulation and now legislation must follow suit to protect the American people.

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2 Responses to “Dinner Tables to Operating Tables: U.S. Food Safety Program Doesn’t Keep Us Safe”

  1. lingfengy Says:

    As a food consumer in the US, I am completely with your advocacy of better food control regulation and honestly willing to pay more for safer food. To make this endeavor more effective, I would also like to suggest the following for engaging both legislators and stakeholders for stronger interest and support.

    Those who run for election can use this as a selling point to attract people’s attention if they are convinced this is a real concern shared by the public. The survey results cited in your blog can serve as hard evidence for this purpose. Once these candidates are elected, we can reasonably believe that they will push the process for safer food forward.

    As for government agencies to be more authoritative in action, scientific support can be further improved. For instance, the reason why the FDA has much stronger action towards drug administration than food administration can partly be the better collected evidence in drug development based upon blinded/randomized clinical trials, by which causal link is established by definition. Lack of this level of control makes the agencies hard to exercise the same type of authority in food administration. Furthermore, the numbers cited in the beginning of this article may appear less striking due to lack of proper denominators. Considering the amount of food consumption, agencies may be less interested because although the absolute numbers are big, the fraction may still be small. Advocators of safer food policy can seek better (observational) studies to solve this type of issues and provide more convincing evidence to legislators to enforce the change.

    Safe food is essential for the welfare of the entire society. While we are promoting more effective regulations, it is also important to promote more efficient methods.

  2. 2011dawn Says:

    It is critical for the government and the businesses to assure that the food will not bring about unacceptable risks to the consumers when it is prepared and eaten accordingly. There really is a great need to improve and tighten food safety policy in our country. I see various other reasons for this: increased demand for convenience/packaged food, rapid urbanization, innovation in food processing and techniques, development of novel foods, and re-emerging and emerging pathogens. Although safety policies and programs are in place, there are still some overlaps and gaps in the implementation – perhaps a clearer and realistic statement on national policy on food safety may also help to curb clarify and address the issues.

    I agree that the government and the food industry must scale up their efforts to complement the voluntary and mandatory measures to further add protection. In addition, I believe that consumers should use their power (via consumer advocacy) to make changes. After all, consumers drive the market for the demand for safe food. For example, i think restaurant grading (and displaying the score/grade) which became a sensational issue in Los Angeles back in early 1990s is an excellent way to notify the public of the sanitation status of a business establishment. As a result, many customers avoided places that received a grade of “C” or had low scores. On the flip side, places with an “A” rating received increased customer traffic/revenues and improved image. This is an example of how the public can directly impact the practice (or lack) of food safety in the food-service/restaurant industries.

    Helpful links:

    http://www.who.int/foodsafety/publications/general/global_strategy/en/index.html
    http://ec.europa.eu/food/training_strategy/intro_en.htm

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