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AUSTIN -- From E. coli-contaminated romaine lettuce to Salmonella-tainted beef, major recalls in 2018 drove Americans to investigate their refrigerators for contaminated food and caused stores and restaurants to toss millions of pounds of meat and produce. TexPIRG Ed Fund’s new report How Safe is Our Food? reveals that these recalls are part of a larger trend over the last five years indicating systemic problems with our current food safety system.
“The food we nourish our bodies with shouldn’t pose a serious health risk. But, systemic failures means we’re often rolling the dice when we go grocery shopping or eat out,” said Bay Scoggin, Texas Public Interest Research Group Education Fund Director. “Serious health risks are preventable through common sense protections from farm to fork.”
Since the passage of the nation’s last significant food safety law the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), in 2012, many types of food recalls have increased significantly. While better science and more thorough investigations under FSMA account for some of the increased recalls, TexPIRG Education Fund found significant gaps in the food safety system during the same time period.
Key findings from this year’s report include:
● An 88 percent increase in meat and poultry recalls that can cause serious health problems: US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Class 1 recalls “involve a health hazard situation in which there is a reasonable probability that eating the food will cause health problems or death.” This includes recalls of beef for E. coli, poultry for Salmonella, and others.
● Food recalls increased by 24 percent between 2013-2017: From crackers to children’s cereal to lettuce to meat, we’ve seen the total number of food recalls increase over the last five years.
● Archaic laws allow meat producers to sell contaminated products: It is currently legal to sell meat that tests positive for dangerous strains of Salmonella. A case study of the recent recall of 12 million pounds of beef sold by JBS could likely have been prevented if it this policy was changed.
● What probably caused the E. coli outbreak that forced stores to pull romaine lettuce off store shelves: A case study helps demonstrate how irrigation water polluted by fecal matter from a nearby cattle feedlot likely contaminated romaine lettuce with E. coli in the spring of 2018.
“These recalls are a warning to everyone that something is rotten in our fields and slaughterhouses. Government agencies need to make sure that the food that reaches people’s mouths won’t make them sick,” finished Scoggin.
“Texas Physicians for Social Responsibility is alarmed at recent data from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) showing a sharp increase in the number of food recalls, especially those most likely to cause a health hazard or death,” says Steve Mckee, Director of Texas Physicians for Social Responsibility said.
“We support policies and legislation to significantly strengthen America’s food safety system including stronger testing of water used in agriculture, better monitoring of plants and food production facilities, improved traceability of foods through the supply and distribution networks, and stronger measures around recall effectiveness.”
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