Food safety experts say food poisoning outbreaks could be avoided. Possible solutions, they suggest, include giving the FDA or USDA — or some other government entity — more authority on farms when it comes to preventing diseases in humans.

Among the holes they cite in the safety of the nation’s food supply:

  • The Food and Drug Administration has no authority to inspect farms until an outbreak.
  • The FDA can’t enforce safety regulations on the farm or in a production facility. It can merely suggest good practices. In fact, the agency twice in the past two years warned spinach growers to improve safety on their farms.
  • There are lots of opportunities for food contamination — from the farm to the processing plants to distribution centers and retail stores. Yet, the thoroughness and frequency of state inspections vary, and it’s possible a store could go years without a check-up — if at all.

Dr. David Acheson of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition said in a media conference call Thursday that changes and regulations might indeed be needed but he wasn’t specific on what the solutions might be.

"If the good agricultural practices, which are not mandatory, are not being followed, there is something potentially there to say they have to be followed … to become a requirement," he said. "There is a need to get on top of this problem and fix it. We can’t (afford to have) more people get sick."