June 28, 2009

 

Why Are There More Food Recalls?

Source of Article: http://www.parade.com/news/intelligence-report/archive/090628-why-are-there-more-food-recalls.html

 

In April, the federal government advised citizens not to eat raw alfalfa sprouts, while earlier in the year we were warned against pistachios and peanut butter. If it seems like these public-health alerts are being issued more frequently, they are. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there were 214 food recalls in 2006, 247 in 2007, and 310 in 2008.

But food manufacturers say thats a good thing. It may look like the food supply is getting less safe, but it actually means that were getting better at detecting the outbreaks, says Dr. Robert Brackett, chief science and regulatory-affairs officer for the Grocery Manufacturers Association. Figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) seem to support Bracketts conclusion: Despite the increase in food recalls in the last several years, the number of food-borne illnesses has plateaued.

Dr. David Acheson, the FDAs associate commissioner for food safety, says the agency is becoming more aggressive about identifying health hazards before any illness is reported. If we have a concern about a product, were trying to get out in front of it, Acheson says. In the pistachio recall, for instance, the nuts were removed from shelves before anyone got sick.

But some lawmakers worry that the FDA still isnt doing enough, and theyre working on a bill to toughen regulations. The legislation would require food manufacturers to closely track the distribution of their products, while the FDA would have to make more frequent visits to food manufacturing plants.

The globalization of the food supply poses further challenges. With more stops from farm to fork, there is a greater chance of contamination. The FDA recently opened offices in India and China to keep an eye on food producers there. The good news is that, thanks to advances in surveillance technology, the CDC is able to track the genetic fingerprint of food-borne illnesses nationwide, allowing the FDA to warn Americans about potential health risks more quickly.

Even with increased oversight, the FDA warns, some food recalls are inevitable. Its not possible to be inspecting and testing every food item, Acheson says. You simply cannot do it.

 Brooke Lea Foster

 

 

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