January 21, 2019
Serious flaws in US food safety system spark recalls of food products
One in six people in the US has fallen ill due to contaminated food products, which include salmonella-tainted beef, according to the United States Public Interest Research Group (US PIRG).
The epidemic is attributed to major recalls in 2018. In one report, the organisation highlighted critical flaws in the US' food safety system which had lead to a spike in these recalls since 2013.
"The food we nourish our bodies with shouldn't pose a serious health risk. But systemic failures mean we're often rolling the dice when we go grocery shopping or eat out," said Adam Garber of US PIRG Consumer Watchdog. "We can prevent serious health risks by using common sense protections from farm to fork."
Since the passage of the US' last major food safety law, the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) in 2011, many types of food recalls have increased substantially. While better science and more thorough investigations under FSMA account for some of the increased recalls, US PIRG found serious gaps in the food safety system throughout the same time period.
Key findings from its report include:
- An 83% increase in meat and poultry recalls that can cause serious health problems: 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 overall increased by 10% between 2013-2018: From crackers to children's cereal to lettuce to meat, the total number of food recalls increase over the last six years, US PIRG claimed.
- Outdated laws allow meat producers to sell contaminated products: It is currently legal to sell meat that tests positive for dangerous strains of salmonella.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.
- Bacteria-contaminated water used on vegetables and produce: 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," said Viveth Karthikeyan of U.S. PIRG Consumer Watchdog.
- US PIRG