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How Safe Is Our Food? Food Safety Emerges As A Major Issue

Food Safety is growing into a "hot button" issue among consumers and lawmakers. Earth Eats has some resources to help you stay informed.


Photo: jelene (flickr)

Nestle has been in the news this week as a result of a recall of packaged cookie dough contaminated with E.coli.

Nestle Chocolate Chip Batter in a tub by jelene on flickr

Photo: jelene/Flickr

Food safety has always been an issue that we’ve had to deal with here in America and really around the world, but it seems like problems related to food safety have been in the news more and more often these days.

Recalls, warnings and legislation — it feels like every day or at least every week, we are hearing something new related to food safety.

The most recent news over the past week has been the Nestle recall of packaged cookie dough, urging consumers not to eat it raw because of possible contamination with E.coli. Today, Nestle and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officially announced that the dough is in fact contaminated and 69 people in 29 states have been reported sick with this strain of E.coli.

Additionally, this past weekend, the FDA announced a recall of J-B-S Swift Beef Company Colorado beef because of possible contamination with E.coli as well. The recall quickly expanded from 41,000 pounds to 380,000 pounds.

Food Safety: The New Climate Change?

Food safety has become one of those classic “hot button” issues that people are now talking about with some regularity, and it looks like a good portion of the population is at least somewhat worried. A recent IBM survey found that less than 20 percent of those polled trust food companies to develop and sell products that are safe and healthy. The study also found that 60 percent of consumers are worried about the safety of food they buy, and only 63 percent of consumers are knowledgeable about the contents of what they buy.

We are now looking to legislators to make something happen, and some folks aren’t willing to wait much longer.

One blog, Obama Foodorama has been following the new President’s relationship with food, including food safety, and recently gave Obama a “D” grade for his work in improving food safety so far. Others are writing open letters to Obama and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, urging them to take food safety more seriously.

A Bill Has Passed, But Will Things Improve?

In some ways, the lawmakers are, in fact, listening. In June, there were many headlines about an in-process bill that would bring food safety reform, which the new FDA head Dr. Margaret Hamburg said was a critical issue. Though Dr. Hamburg found the bill to be “a step in the right direction,” not everyone was quite on board with what the bill contained.

An LA Times editorial took the bill to task:

Congress should restore the tracking provision to a bill that otherwise contains many of the elements for meaningful reform. The bill would tighten food oversight by requiring companies to develop safety plans and by funding more frequent FDA inspections through a fee on food producers. Before consumers get too excited, they should know that “more frequent” means once every four years instead of once a decade, and as often as once every 18 months for foods considered most at risk for contamination. The bill also would enable the FDA to issue recalls, a provision so obviously overdue that most Americans think the agency already has that authority.

Eventually, the bill passed (with some deals made, of course), which is better than nothing.

Here’s a rundown of the major changes coming as a result of the bill’s passage:

• Creation of a registry of all food facilities and importers serving Americans, which would be updated on an annual basis. Affected parties would pay fees to be included in the registry, and would be tagged with unique identification numbers for easier tracking.

• Registered facilities would pay an annual fee of $500 to fund FDA oversight, including inspections, recalls, and certifications for export of food to the U.S.

• The FDA’s powers to “quarantine” potentially unsafe food or products from entering geographic areas would be enhanced.

• The FDA would issue regulations requiring every company in a food produce chain — including manufacturers, processors, and transporters — to maintain records for the origin and distribution of the food, and ensure the records are usable and transferable in multiple formats.

What Can We Do?

So where do we go from here? The constant barrage of outbreaks and recalls has consumers worried and interested about food safety. What remains to be seen is how much of this responsibility will fall to the individual (i.e., don’t eat raw cookie dough), to the corporations, and to the FDA and other government regulators.

In any event, consumers need to be keeping up with food safety issues to keep ourselves safe. Below are a few links to keep handy if food safety is something you want to investigate more or keep up with:

Your Thoughts

What are your thoughts on food safety? Are you scared to eat the food you buy? And do you feel like the new legislation will keep events like the Nestle and Colorado Beef recalls/E.coli outbreaks from happening? Let us know in the comments.

Cory Barker

Cory Barker is a summer intern for Earth Eats and senior IU student from Hartford City, Indiana. He is double majoring in journalism and communication and culture with a minor in business.

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  • Kathy

    Great article. We too have been leary of food for years, and have gone the self sufficient root, and grow our own. We raise our own vegetables (organically of course), and we also raise free range organic chickens for both meat and eggs. This year we have pigs, and next year we will have goats for milk and cheese.
    I know not everyone can do this, and it is sad that the consumers have to worry about what they are buying.
    We need stricter laws. If Obama’s children got sick…then the laws would be passed.

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