CDC Report Says Food Safety Needs Overhaul


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report that claims food safety has gone about as far as it can go without a complete wall-to-wall reworking. The report claims that, over the last three years, food safety has not improved at all after decades of progress. Reports of illnesses such as E. coli, listeria, shigella, campylobacter, and Yersinia have decreased, but all of the decrease came before 2004. The Food and Drug Administration, they say, is largely to blame.

People at the FDA tend to agree. One thing the FDA could do, according to the associate commissioner for foods at the FDA, is inspect the food supply more. Because globalization has formed a food industry that has spread far beyond localized preparation, cultivation, and consumption of food, regulating this chain has become difficult. The big problem is that the longer the supply chain gets, the more chances there are for a contaminant to be introduced. The food safety network needs to be modernized to incorporate ways to fix this. On top of all of this, epidemiologists say that all the easy fixes, such as washing hands and cutting boards have already been recommended.

The CDC uses three methods to track foodborne illnesses, but even the most reliable tracking system called FoodNet, may only be capturing a small portion of those actually sickened. This is because FoodNet cases must be sick enough to see a doctor and the doctor concerned enough to collect a stool sample to be given to a lab for testing. So, while the CDC estimates that 76 million people come down with food poisoning each year, the number could actually be much higher. Other estimates say that 300,000 people are hospitalized, and around 5000 die each year. Those under four years become sick more than any other age group, but those over 50 go to the hospital more and suffer more fatalities than other age groups.

Though we continue to hear about mass recalls of food due to contamination, such as the recent national salmonella outbreak that centered on the Peanut Corporation of America, there are a number of localized outbreaks that we probably never even know about. But it seems to take more than a couple people getting sick from eating their local Whole Foods potato salad before anything is done.

Until the FDA is able to fill positions it claims are vacant, there may be several more illnesses and deaths before food safety improves. Until then all we can apparently do is wash our hands and cutting boards, don’t eat food that’s been sitting out for too long, and other common sense solutions.