Every year there seems to be a significant outbreak of illnesses caused by food. This year one of the largest food recalls involved peanuts. Last year, it was salmonella from jalapeno peppers. In 2007, millions of pounds of ground beef were recalled because of E.coli contamination. And in 2006, hundreds were sickened and three were killed by E.coli in bagged spinach.
Government officials say an overhaul of the nation’s food safety system needs to take place. This was in response to the increase in the number of foodborne infections taking place, with little change in the past few years, despite the government’s effect to improve food safety.
A series of incidents involving food safety have eroded public confidence in food safety and renewed calls for change.
Dr. Robert Tauxe of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told reporters in a telephone briefing, “Progress has plateaued. This indicates to us that further measures are needed to prevent more foodborne illness.”
In 2008, the CDC identified 18,499 laboratory-confirmed cases of food poisoning. “When we compared the year 2008 information with the three previous years — 2005 to 2007 — we see no significant change in the incidence of these infections,” he said
Salmonella infections were the most commonly diagnosed and reported foodborne illnesses in 2008, and their numbers were essentially unchanged compared with data from 2005-2007.
The 2008 findings represent just a portion of the Salmonella Typhimurium infections caused by tainted peanuts and peanut products processed by the now bankrupt Peanut Corp of America, which has led to the biggest food recall in U.S. history.
Time for a New Approach
“This change needs to address the safety problems around foods and really focus on how to prevent these problems in the first place,” Acheson told reporters on the call. He said the FDA was embarking on “an aggressive and proactive approach” aimed at protecting and enforcing the safety of the food supply.”Clearly we are working very closely with the new administration and Congress on addressing these issues.”
The CDC estimates that each year 76 million Americans get food poisoning, more than 300,000 are sick enough to be hospitalized and 5,000 die.
What Can You Do to Protect Yourself
There is no sure fire way to protect yourself entirely from possible food illnesses, but there are precautions you can take to limit your chances of getting a food borne illness:
- Meat should be cooked to at least 160F to prevent E. coli.
- Wash raw fruits and vegetables with soap. Pay particular attention to leafy greens as there are lots of crevasses and cracks where E. coli can hide.
- Don’t chop vegetables on the same block where you just made beef hamburgers or prepared other meat.
- Keep raw and ready-to-eat food completely separate.
- Refrigerate leftovers promptly.
- Avoid bruised produce such as tomatoes.
- Make sure all cooking utensils, including meat thermometers and cutting boards, are thoroughly cleaned with soap and hot water after you’ve handled them.
- Wash your hands regularly with soap and hot water.
- Drink only pasteurized milk, juice or cider.