News / USA

Massive Egg Recall Raises Food Safety Questions

Congress considers enacting new food laws

The recent egg contamination is one of the largest salmonella outbreaks ever recorded in the US.
The recent egg contamination is one of the largest salmonella outbreaks ever recorded in the US.

Multimedia

Audio

This month, authorities ordered more than half a billion eggs off the shelves at American supermarkets due to fears of salmonella. More than 1,000 people have become sick after eating eggs contaminated with the disease-causing bacteria.

It's one of the largest salmonella outbreaks ever recorded in the U.S., and the most recent in a series of high-profile food borne disease outbreaks in recent years.

The outbreak may give new momentum to an effort to update U.S. food safety laws.

Deadly contamination

Ohio resident Randy Napier lost his mother in another recent food safety failure.

Shortly after New Year's Day last year, his 80-year-old mother, Nellie, became sick with several days of severe diarrhea.

"The only thing she likes to snack on is peanut butter on bread. So that's all she was eating," he says.

But as the Napiers soon discovered, peanut butter was at the center of a nationwide outbreak of salmonella. By the time doctors identified it as the culprit, Nellie was hospitalized. Her organs soon shut down.

Randy says she was in tremendous pain. "It was about four, five days of - excuse the language - just utter hell."

She died on January 26. Eight others died during the outbreak and more than 700 people in 46 states got sick.

Massive recall

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recalled nearly 4,000 products and countless individual items, including crackers, cookies, cereal, ice cream and even dog food.

The scope of the outbreak surprised Randy Napier. "I could not even imagine something you go into the store and you buy off the shelf would kill you."  

All those products on store shelves across the country had one thing in common: they all contained peanuts produced by a single company: the Peanut Corporation of America.

This month, a new salmonella outbreak has triggered an FDA recall of more than 500 million eggs produced by two closely-linked farms.

The reason for these huge outbreaks has a lot to do with how Americans get their food today. Food manufacturers have gotten bigger and more efficient, pushing out most small, local operations.

"Foods are produced in large quantities and distributed widely across the country," says epidemiologist Robert Wallace at the University of Iowa. "And when there's a problem in the safety of that food, a lot of people are then exposed, and it's over a broad geographic area. And that's really the problem."

Illness not on the rise

But despite the big numbers when problems occur, Wallace says it's hard to know whether America's overall food safety is really suffering because most cases of food poisoning go unreported.

According to the best data available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, rates of salmonella infection haven't changed much in the last decade, and rates of many other food borne illnesses are declining.

While it's impossible to reduce outbreaks to zero, America's food supply is one of the safest in the world, according to Kelli Ludlum with the American Farm Bureau Federation, the nation's largest farmers' group. It's also "what allows us to enjoy foods that we probably wouldn't be able to otherwise," she says.

Ludlum adds that Americans have made trade-offs for their modern food supply.

"Personally, I wouldn't want to go back to the food supply of 50 years ago. I don't cook that much. I certainly don't [preserve], so having to provide for myself all those things would be more than just inconvenient."

Outdated law

But while the way Americans feed themselves has changed over the last 50 years, the law governing food safety haven't, according to Erik Olson, head of food safety at the research and advocacy group the Pew Charitable Trusts.

"Right now in the United States, we have an antiquated law that's over 70 years old," he says, "and it reacts to contamination problems rather than preventing them."

Congress is considering updating that law, and the latest outbreak may give that effort a push.

"Certainly FDA does need more resources. We've said that for a long time," says the Farm Bureau's Kelli Ludlum. "And they need more direction on how to use those resources."

The House of Representatives passed a food safety bill last year, but the Senate has not passed its version. Randy Napier, who lost his mother to Salmonella, is heading to Washington, DC, soon with a message for his senators.

"Granted, things are going to cost a little more to be safer," he says. "But it has to be safer. It has to be. Or the people are just gonna keep dying."

You May Like

Pundits Split Over Long-Term US Role in Afghanistan

Security pact remains condition for American presence beyond 2014; deadline criticized More

US Eyes Islamic State Threat

Officials warn that IS could pose a threat to US homeland More

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Moscow says Russian troops crossed into Ukrainian territory by mistake More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocksi
X
George Putic
August 25, 2014 4:00 PM
How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Ukrainian officials say they have captured Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory -- the latest accusation of Moscow's involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the Ukrainian side of the battle, where soldiers are convinced of Russia's role.
Video

Video Rubber May Soon Come From Dandelions

Synthetic rubber has been around for more than a century, but quality tires for cars, trucks and aircraft still need up to 40 percent or more natural rubber content. As the source of natural rubber, the rubber tree, is prone to disease and can be affected by bad weather. So scientists are looking for replacements. And as VOA’s George Putic reports, they may have found one in a ubiquitous weed.
Video

Video Jewish Life in Argentina Reflected in Yiddish Tango

Jewish people from across Europe and Russia have been immigrating to Argentina for hundreds of years. They brought with them dance music that were eventually mixed with Argentine tango. The result is Yiddish tango -- a fusion of melodies and cultural experiences that is still evolving today. Elizabeth Lee reports from the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, where one band is bringing Yiddish tango to an American audience.
Video

Video Peace Returns to Ferguson as Community Tries to Heal

Thousands of people nationwide are expected to attend funeral services Monday in the U.S. Midwestern city of St. Louis, Missouri, for Michael Brown, the unarmed African-American teenager who was fatally shot by a white police officer August 9 in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson. The shooting touched off days of violent demonstrations there, resulting in more than 100 arrests. VOA's Chris Simkins reports from Ferguson where the community is trying to move on after weeks of racial tension.
Video

Video Meeting in Minsk May Hinge on Putin Story

The presidents of Russia and Ukraine are expected to meet face-to-face Tuesday in Minsk, along with European leaders, for talks on the situation in Ukraine. Political analysts say the much welcomed dialogue could help bring an end to months of deadly clashes between pro-Russia separatists and Ukrainian forces in the country's southeast. But much depends on the actions of one man, Russian President Vladimir Putin. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Artists Shun Russia's Profanity Law

Russia in July enacted a law threatening fines for publicly displayed profanity in media, films, literature, music and theater. The restriction, the toughest since the Soviet era, aims to protect the Russian language and culture and has been welcomed by those who say cursing is getting out of control. But many artists reject the move as a patronizing and ineffective act of censorship in line with a string of conservative morality laws. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video British Fighters on Frontline of ISIS Information War

Security services are racing to identify the Islamic State militant who beheaded U.S. journalist James Foley in Syria. The murderer spoke English on camera with a British accent. It’s estimated that several hundred British citizens are fighting for the Islamic State, also called ISIL or ISIS, alongside thousands of other foreign jihadists. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from the center of the investigation in London.

AppleAndroid