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.



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

Pakistan Among Developing Counties Hit Hard by Global Warming

Pakistani officials hope developed nations agree to scale back emissions, offer help in dealing with climate change

Video Speed, Social Media Shape Counterterrorism Probes

Speed is critical in effort to prevent subsequent attacks; demographics of extremists lend themselves to communicating, establishing profiles on digital platforms

Islamic State Oil Trade Seduces Friends, Foes Alike

Terrorist group rakes in up to $500 million a year in sales to customers such as Syrian government, US-supported rebels and Turkey

This forum has been closed.
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.
Social Media Aids Counter-Terrorism Investigationsi
Katherine Gypson
December 01, 2015 10:06 PM
In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, officials carried out waves of raids and arrests to break up terror cells. As VOA's Katherine Gypson reports, social media can be a key tool for investigators.

Video Social Media Aids Counter-Terrorism Investigations

In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, officials carried out waves of raids and arrests to break up terror cells. As VOA's Katherine Gypson reports, social media can be a key tool for investigators.

Video Russia Marks World AIDS Day With Grim News

While HIV infection rates have steadied or even declined in many European countries, the caseload has grown rapidly in Russia, as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow. Over half of the new infections were transmitted through injection drug use.

Video Pakistan Hit Hard by Global Warming

As world leaders meet in Paris to craft a new global agreement aimed at cutting climate-changing greenhouse-gas emissions, many developing countries are watching closely for the final results. While most developing nations contribute much less to global warming than developed countries, they often feel the effects to a disproportionate degree. As Saud Zafar reports from Karachi, one such nation is Pakistan. Aisha Khalid narrates his report.

Video With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?

The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video Political Motives Seen Behind Cancelled Cambodian Water Festival

For the fourth time in the five years since more than 350 people were killed in a stampede at Cambodia’s annual water festival, authorities canceled the event this year. Officials blamed environmental reasons as the cause, but many see it as fallout from rising political tensions with a fresh wave of ruling party intimidation against the opposition. David Boyle and Kimlong Meng report from Phnom Penh.

Video African Circus Gives At-Risk Youth a 2nd Chance

Ethiopia hosted the first African Circus Arts Festival this past weekend with performers from seven different African countries. Most of the performers are youngsters coming form challenging backgrounds who say the circus gave them a second chance.

Video US Lawmakers Brace for End-of-Year Battles

U.S. lawmakers are returning to Washington for Congress’ final working weeks of the year. And, as VOA's Michael Bowman reports, a full slate of legislative business awaits them, from keeping the federal government open to resolving a battle with the White House over the admittance of Syrian refugees.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video After Terrorist Attacks, Support for Refugees Fades

The terrorists who killed and injured almost 500 people around Paris this month are mostly French or Belgian nationals. But at least two apparently took advantage of Europe’s migrant crisis to sneak into the region. The discovery has hardened views about legitimate refugees, including those fleeing the same extremist violence that hit the French capital. Lisa Bryant has this report for VOA from the Paris suburb of Cergy-Pontoise

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

As Thailand takes in the annual Loy Krathong festival, many ponder the country’s future and security. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

VOA Blogs