Washington – Cantaloupes from Colorado, mangoes from Mexico and peanut butter produced at a New Mexico plant recently made headlines as subjects of major recalls. All three foods were linked to Salmonella and blamed for sickening people in scores of states.
“Foods are not being tested enough and inspected and monitored before going onto grocery store shelves,” says Nasima Hossain, public health advocate for U.S. PIRG and author of a report on food borne illnesses released by the nationwide consumer advocacy group.
The report, entitled Total Food Recall, estimates that 48 million people get sick from tainted food each year.
Hossain says the problem is getting worse, not better, and food borne illnesses can sometimes be far more serious than a tummy ache.
Relying on information compiled by the Food and Drug Administration, she says at least 37 people have died from food borne illnesses since January 2011, and there are about 300 more outbreaks of food illnesses so far this year compared to the 718 recorded in 2011.
Deaths often occur from infections from E. coli bacteria, which can produce kidney failure.
The report says imported foods, which now make up about 15 percent of all food consumed in the U.S., are contributing to the problem, with the FDA inspecting far too little food entering the country.
To bolster food safety, Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed into law last year the Food Safety Modernization Act. But the PIRG report says delays and under-funding have made the law’s promises unrealized.
Representatives of the U.S. Food industry have long maintained that the United States food supply is among the safest in the world. But Hossain counters that, “Our food safety systems are still not as safe as we need them to be.”