As I was making my son’s peanut butter sandwich this morning, I fervently hoped the new jar I had just bought was truly safe. Every time I make a salad, I’m still a bit unsure about eating it, even though I’ve taken to washing the pre-washed greens again and again. This uneasiness is new for most of us.
Until just a few years ago, the U.S. could boast about having one of the safest food systems in the world, but incidences such as Salmonella in peanut butter have rocked consumer confidence. My husband and I both work in the food business, so perhaps we are more sensitive to these situations than most. However, I don’t think we are different than others who also worry about their families’ health and wish for better news on the U.S. food integrity front.
The FDA oversees the safety of most of the U.S.’s food system. Long under funded, the agency, charged with regulating 80% of the nation’s food supply, has 1,317 field investigators, and only 625 conduct food inspections, according to a Chicago Tribune article. The USDA, charged with the other 20% in the form of meat, eggs and poultry, has 7,600 inspectors throughout U.S. meatpacking plants. The lack of resources is rather evident. FDA has asked Congress for $76 million to enhance its ability to monitor produce safety. It also wants to put more stringent rules on produce growers—a move it says could greatly decrease the incidence of food contamination (one cnn.com article states there have been 20 outbreaks of E. coli linked to California lettuce since 1995).
Apparently, lawmakers are alarmed enough to also want a change. A bill recently introduced to Congress, the Food Safety Act of 2007, would restructure the FDA in the hope of gaining a food supply free from contaminants.
FDA last month created a new position, assistant commissioner for food protection. David Acheson will help develop “an agency-wide, visionary strategy for food safety and defense,” per an FDA press release. His staff includes epidemiologists, biostatisticians and others who will help him determine risks and solutions in an industry filled with new domestic and international challenges.
It is gratifying to see this serious issue is becoming a priority for our lawmakers. It also helps to know that many food manufacturers are judicious in their selection of raw materials, follow good GMPs and generally are rather conscientious about producing safe food products. Thanks to them, most of us will never have to experience the serious effects of food contamination.