More steps are being taken to improve U.S. food safety. The Agriculture Department unveiled new regulations April 5 that would force meat and poultry companies to delay shipments to consumers until government inspectors get results of products they have tested for E-coli bacteria and other contaminants. The move is an effort by the government to prevent outbreaks of food poisoning and reduce the number of costly product recalls.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates one-in-six Americans are sickened after eating contaminated food and 5,000 die every year. During the past several years’s outbreaks of E-Coli and Salmonella poisoning have led to massive food recalls of ground beef and other things like spinach, tomatoes and eggs.
"People are alarmed when they see these kinds of outbreaks and they want the food industry to do something," Robert Brackett, a food industry analyst said.
Now the food industry and the U.S. Agriculture Department have established tougher regulations to keep contaminated items out of the food supply. Meat and poultry products will be prevented from reaching consumers for 24 to 48 hours until government inspectors have the opportunity to review tests to help ensure consumers are getting the safest food possible. Government researchers believe if the new guidelines had been in place two years ago more than 44 serious food recalls could have been prevented.
Long-term heath outcomes
"It is much more important to prevent the product from going into the marketplace than it is to recall it after it's been there," said Pat Buck, who founded the Center for Foodborne Illness, Research and Prevention in 2006. Buck made the decision several years after her grandson Kevin died from eating food tainted with E-coli bacteria.
Buck says serious foodborne illness is not just about having an upset stomach.
"It can also lead to a whole host of long-term health outcomes. One reason we formed our organization was to start examining and looking at those long-term health outcomes," Buck explains.
Other food safety advocates say the U.S. system is stronger since President Barack Obama signed The Food Safety Modernization Act into law last January. It represented the first major overhaul of the nation's food safety infrastructure in more than 70 years. The act requires companies to stop contamination before it happens by increasing inspections at food processing facilities and forcing companies to recall tainted products. Buck says the tougher rules will have a big impact.
"Definitely it will save lives. Will it make our food safe tomorrow morning? No," she said. "This is a major change that means we are going to have to develop regulations and we are going to have to find resources to put the new programs in place."
Buck says it could take 10 years before significant changes to the nation's food safety system are in place. In the meantime, she says her organization will continue working to encourage more research and raise public awareness about foodborne illness and making the food we eat safer.