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Food safety issues in US are far from resolved

Outbreaks continue despite calls for stricter consumer protection

Salmonella under a microscopeby Justina Wang, The Californian

February 23, 2009 — Every major food safety scare — from E coli in spinach and beef to salmonella in peppers and pot pies — has come with renewed calls for stronger laws and stricter oversight.

But outbreaks continue. The latest scare of salmonella in peanut butter exposes vulnerabilities in the food industry and an inadequate system to protect consumers — which comes as no surprise to health experts and food safety advocates.

"Absolutely it will continue to happen until big changes are made," said Sanford Miller, former director of the Food and Drug Administration's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition and a senior fellow at the University of Maryland. "The food industry has just exploded over the last several decades, and unfortunately, the FDA has not been able to keep up with this."

Outbreaks of food-borne illnesses have become ingrained in a massively consolidated industry. Meat from a single farm or the ingredients from one manufacturer can travel across the country, with products susceptible to contamination at any point.

At the same time, federal officials hold little power to force recalls or oversee daily production in a plant. Add the slow process of identifying a nationwide outbreak, the arduous guess-and-check work to trace the origin of the contaminant and the long lapse in time from the first illness to the first recall.

Since the start of the peanut butter scare, lawmakers and advocates have pushed for reform, calling for legislation that would give the FDA recall authority, issue standards for routine inspections or set up a new federal department to oversee food safety. . .

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  Food safety issues are far from resolved, by Justina Wang, The Californian, February 23 2009

Posted: February 24, 2009

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