For Immediate Release: July 2, 2008
Trust for America's Health: New E. Coli Outbreak, Confusion around Salmonella Show Food Safety System Remains Broken
TFAH Released Report in April, Recommending Systematic Changes
Washington, D.C. - Richard Hamburg, Director of Government Relations for Trust for America's Health (TFAH), expressed concern about a new food safety breach today, in the wake of last month's nationwide salmonella outbreak. Approximately 530,000 pounds of beef were recalled earlier today, and a nationwide effort is underway to take suspect beef off market shelves. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced yesterday that it is broadening its investigation into the recent salmonella outbreak to other foods, because they are no longer sure that tomatoes were ever the source. TFAH released a comprehensive report, Fixing Food Safety: Protecting America's Food Supply from Farm-to-Fork in April of 2008, recommending additional funding and systematic reform.
Hamburg said, "The beef recall today and the new questions about the salmonella outbreak are sure signs that the food safety system in America is broken. American families should be able to put food on their tables that does not make them sick, and when contaminated food does hit the market shelves, the government should be able to tell where it came from and why the problem originated. But while the amount of food that needs inspection continues to grow, funding for oversight and investigation fails to keep up. The investigators that are on the job are using methods and technology that are a century old. It doesn't add up, and the risks to the American people keep reappearing like clockwork."
Approximately 76 million Americans -- one in four -- are sickened by foodborne disease each year. Of these, an estimated 325,000 are hospitalized and 5,000 die, costing the U.S. $44 billion annually. TFAH has consistently urged the FDA and United States Department of Agriculture to provide detailed strategic plans to Congress with corresponding budget increases, so that crises of this nature are contained in a more effective way, or prevented from reaching the kitchens and plates of the American public altogether.
TFAH's 2008 report identified major gaps in the nation's food safety system, including obsolete laws, misallocation of resources, and inconsistencies among major food safety agencies. TFAH calls for a series of actions to modernize the nation's food safety system by using strategic inspection practices and state-of-the-art surveillance.
Key recommendations include:
- Repealing outdated end-product and processing plant inspection mandates and shift the emphasis of inspection practices to the prevention of outbreaks and illnesses through the entire food production process and supply chain;
- Creating mechanisms that allow inspection practices to keep pace with changes in the industry;
- Establishing uniform performance standards and best practices that are enforceable through actions including detention and recall authority and civil penalty authority;
- Requiring food safety education for commercial food handlers;
- Improving monitoring of foreign imports and international practices; and
- Strengthening the FDA with increased funding and aligning resources with high risk threats, with the long-term goal of realigning all federal food safety functions.