A recent editorial commentary by the Pittsburgh Post Gazette addresses the recent incidents of food-borne disease, particularly those involving produce in restaurant chains such as Taco Bell.

Despite more than 12,000 food-processing plants in the United States, says the editorial,  the budget of a key federal watchdog, the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, has been cut by 37 percent since 2003.

Last year, the agency conducted 4,573 inspections. The goal this year: 3,400. While the number of federal inspectors and inspections is declining, the number of illnesses linked to produce have jumped sharply, doubling between 1998 and 2004.

The editorial further goes on to say that “The fragmented approach to food safety must be streamlined and bolstered if the public is to be protected. E. coli and other pathogens don’t merely give people a stomach ache; they can kill,” and urges Congress to prepare to make the changes necessary to retain public confidence in the safety of the nation’s food supply.
 

Caroline Smith DeWaal, director of food safety at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, commented in a recent TomPaine.com editorial in regards to the need for Americans to eat for fresh fruits and vegetables, and how the recent food poisoning outbreaks are hindering that message.

“Contaminated foods kill about 5,000 Americans each year, and sicken another 76 million, according to the Centers for Disease Control,” says DeWall. “While the numbers seem enormous, what often isn’t counted is the cost to survivors, who sometimes suffer loss of kidney function, miscarriage, colitis or reactive arthritis after a bout of food poisoning. The liability costs of the recent spinach outbreak may well exceed $100 million, money that should have been invested in preventing the outbreak with more effective oversight of growers.”

She then outlined CSPI’s recommendations of several policy options that she feels would help plug gaps in the food safety system:

•    Congressional funding for the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition to reflect the growing demands on the agency.
•    Improvements in food-safety conditions on the farm by designating one agency to promulgate regulations for and conduct inspections of America’s farms.
•    A modern food safety law to supplant the “current hodgepodge of laws”, some of which were enacted 100 years ago.
•    The creation of a single food-safety agency, with the authority to recall food from the market and to penalize companies that produce contaminated products.

 

United States food safety regulators say they are still mystified by an outbreak of E coli that has killed one person, sickened 157 and forced all fresh spinach to be pulled from store shelves.

The investigation centers on nine farms in three California counties, and the outbreak may signal a need for tighter regulation – especially in California’s crop-rich Salinas Valley, an FDA official said. California health officials, the FDA and an investigator from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are inspecting nine farms in California’s Monterey, San Benito and Santa Clara counties.

Dr David Acheson, chief medical officer for the agency’s Food Safety and Applied Nutrition branch, said presumably fresh spinach from elsewhere was safe but the agency needed to come up with clear language to guide consumers so they would be confident buying fresh spinach again.

The contamination could have come from water, manure, a breakdown in the packaging plant, or improperly refrigerated spinach, Acheson said. The farms are the likely source of the problem. "We are looking at drainage, we are looking at irrigation, we are looking at the topography of land," Acheson said. If good agricultural practices are not being followed, then perhaps there is a need to tighten up the voluntary aspects.

This is the 10th outbreak of E coli to be traced to the Salinas Valley area.

September is National Food Safety Education Month. The point of the annual campaign is to make sure you don’t get sick because of things you’re doing – or not doing – in your kitchen. There are a few things you can do during dinner tonight that’ll help keep you and your family safe, according to WETM 18 News of New York.

Health officials warn you that food in your grocery store might look ready to bring home and serve immediately, but it’s not ready to eat. Poultry, for example, is synonymous with food-borne illnesses, like salmonella poisoning. Chicken cutlets might look nice and neat in their tightly-bound packaging, but Butts doesn’t advise that you simply drop it on a grill. "Poultry draws contaminants easily, so you want to make sure anytime you buy poultry that you’re thoroughly cleaning it before you grill it or cook it or whatever you’re going to do with it," Butts said.

According to the FDA, I in 5 people don’t wash his or her hands or kitchen counters before preparing food. But it’s how you wash your counter that makes the difference. A third safety suggestion is this: Butts says choose paper towels, not kitchen sponges. "Sponges are fine for one-time use, but what they’ll do is they’ll actually absorb bacteria, said Butts. "So when you’re using them to clean your kitchen, you’re spreading more bacteria."

Using wooden cutting boards is a bad idea when cutting raw meat. The juices can seep into the wood, stay there, and get on other food. Instead, health officials recommend using a plastic cutting board.
 

This September is National Food Safety Education Month.

It is estimated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that 76 million people get sick, more than 300,000 are hospitalized, and 5,000 Americans die each year from food-borne illness.

The Jefferson County Department of Health and Environment is celebrating food safety month with educational displays and the Leader in Food Safety Award. The Food Safety Program works to prevent food-borne illness outbreaks and assure that Jefferson County citizens and visitors are provided with safe food. Staff routinely inspect the over 1,800 food service establishments in the County to insure compliance with state regulations and to educate about food safety.

Throughout the month of September, the public is encouraged to visit one of the six educational displays set up in the Jefferson County libraries. This year’s display theme "Don’t Let Food-borne Illness Spoil a Good Meal" highlights the most common food borne illnesses and how to prevent them; the importance of proper hand-washing in fighting the spread of disease as well as information on getting the most nutrition out of your meals. An additional food safety display will be in the atrium of the Jefferson County Courts and Administration Building.