If you live in the United States and you’re worried about the safety of your food, you should be. The country is currently in the midst of a peanut butter and peanut recall due to a salmonella outbreak, and within the last year, contaminated cantaloupe, eggs, and ground turkey—all of which received top ratings from third-party food inspectors—have sickened and even killed people.
The country is experiencing an epidemic of food-borne illness, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) never inspected many of the domestic food producers who products made people sick.
According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle , over the last two decades, the U.S. food industry has taken over much of the FDA’s job in making sure what Americans eat is safe. For-profit, third party inspection companies, or third-party auditors, that aren’t required by law to meet federal standards and have no government supervision, are being used more and more by food producers. They often follow guidelines set forth by trade groups such as ConAgra Foods Inc, Kraft Foods Inc. and Wal-Mart. These private inspectors are often told only to check areas their clients ask them to review, missing deadly bacteria.
The U.S. had 37 recalls of fruits and vegetables in 2011; there were only two in 2005. Most victims of contaminated food are the elderly or children whose immune systems are weak or under-developed. According to theCenters for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) , food contaminated with dangerous bacteria and other pathogens such as E. coli and Salmonella causes 3,000 deaths each year.
William Beach, an 87-year-old retired tractor mechanic in Oklahoma died in September 2011 from eating cantaloupe contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes, a bacterium that can cause a blood infection and damaged to the blood and spinal cord. Yet weeks before, a for-profit inspection company, Bio Food Safety , gave Jensen Farms , where the cantaloupes were grown, a top food safety score. Both companies have currently filed for bankruptcy, and a settlement fund established for the victims of the outbreak has fallen millions of dollars short. The cantaloupe sickened 147 people according to the CDC . Another 37 deaths are believed to be associated with the outbreak, making it the deadliest in almost 100 years.
The Pew Charitable Trusts , a non-profit that works to solve today’s most challenging problems, is trying improving food safety in the U.S. by reducing threats from food-borne pathogens by strengthening federal government authority and better enforcement of food-safety laws. The FDA Food Modernization Act , which was signed into law in January 2011, has still not received enough support from the Obama administration to issue the proposed rules need to implement the law which would update the country’s food safety framework. Despite bipartisan support, and a coalition of food safety advocates and industry representatives working for its enactment, the administration still has not issued the proposed rules needed to begin implementing this law.