Foodborne illness affects millions annually

by Meat&Poultry Staff
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WASHINGTON – Food recalls are on the rise and food safety systems are broken with 48 million Americans getting sick every year at the price tag of more than $77 billion in aggregated economic costs, according to a new report by US PIRG.

“Every year we see hundreds of food products recalled because they have caused sickness and in some cases death,” said Nasima Hossain, public health advocate for US PIRG. “2012 had already seen nearly twice as many illnesses due to recalls as 2011, with high-profile recalls of cantaloupes and hundreds of thousands of jars of peanut butter. More needs to be done to identify the contaminants that are making us sick and to protect Americans from the risk of unsafe food.”

In a new report, “Total food recall: unsafe foods putting American lives at risk,” US PIRG analyzed nationwide recall information from the US Food and Drug Administration and the Food Safety Inspection Service from January 2011 to September 2012. During that period, there were 1,753 foodborne illnesses directly linked to recalls of food products from known pathogens such as Listeria and Salmonella, 37 deaths directly linked to recalls of food products, 464 hospitalizations due to recalled food products, 165 incidences of Listeria linked to recalls of food products and $227 million in economic and health-related costs linked to recalls of food products.

In 2011, there were 718 illnesses directly linked to food recalls, but so far in 2012 there already have been 1,035 illnesses linked to recalls. If foodborne-illness outbreaks continue at this pace then there may be twice as many illnesses as there were in 2011.

In addition, US PIRG said the Food Safety Modernization Act is not being fully implemented.

“We need a food-safety system that is fully funded and fully staffed so it can stop unsafe food from reaching our dinner tables,” Hossain said. “We must move away from the current reactive approach where recalls happen after dangerous products have already made it into families’ kitchens and focus on prevention. The Food Safety Modernization Act should be fully implemented and the administration should not waste any more time in strengthening our food safety systems.”

US PIRG said one reason for ineffective implementation of the FSMA is because the FDA is not being given adequate funding despite the fact proper implementation of the new provision could significantly reduce rates of foodborne illness.

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