In the wake of the latest case of contaminated food forcing the recall of more than half a billion eggs U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone on Friday joined with an array of food scientists and consumer advocates in New Jersey to press for action on the Food Safety Enhancement Act. Approved by the House more than a year ago, the congressional plan to protect the America food supply from contaminants is still awaiting action by the U.S. Senate.
"The Salmonella outbreak is more evidence of the vulnerability of the food supply to contamination," said Pallone, a key author of the bill. "It should also serve as a catalyst for action by the Senate. The need for improved safety standards and procedures assumes greater urgency in light of the Salmonella-tainted eggs and subsequent recall."
Each year, 76 million people get sick from unsafe food, 325,000 people are hospitalized and 5,000 people die. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates a financial cost of food borne illnesses of $6.9 billion annually.
In the past few years, the food industry has been seriously scarred by the spread of E. coli, Salmonella and melamine in mainstay items of the food supply, outbreaks that caused widespread illness and deaths. During a recent public hearing, Pallone heard about a three-year-old who suffered kidney failure from contaminated spinach.
Joining with Pallone were Professor Donald Schaffner, Director of the Center for Advanced Food Technology at Rutgers University, Surur Fatima Sajanlal, of NJ PIRG, Jim Walsh, from Food & Water Watch, and Michael Hansen, the Senior Staff Scientist with Consumers Union.
"We must do more to improve the food safety system, we have to do a better job of keeping our food products free of contamination, said Pallone. "We get more food from the farm to the dinner table faster and cheaper than ever. But when the safety system comes up short, consumers are exposed to illness and even death. We have the knowledge and ability to make the food system safer, this bill will provide the resources and the standards to get the job done."
The initiative would emphasize prevention and give producers more responsibility to keep food clean at the source, Pallone noted.
The plan would create an updated registry of food facilities, require safety plans, add food inspectors, increase inspections and dramatically improve "traceability," allowing for the quick identification of the source of any contamination. It would also bring more accountability and oversight to imported foods that often originate in countries with less stringent standards.
It would be funded by the food industry.
"It is in everyone's interest - especially the food industry - to maintain confidence in the Nation's food supply," Pallone said. "Parents need to know the food they feed their families is safe and the food industry needs to have the public's trust."