Guest commentary: Food safety concerns are all too real

Source of Article:


Published 12:00 am PDT Thursday, August 7, 2008
Story appeared in CITRUS HEIGHTS ORANGEVALE section, Page G6

Salmonella bacteria found in fresh jalapeño peppers and peanut butter. E. coli organisms discovered in ground beef, green onions, lettuce and bagged spinach. Melamine toxins detected in imported pet foods.

Food safety concerns are making headline news today like never before. And for good reason: 76 million Americans – one person in four – will be sickened by something they eat this year. Of those, 325,000 will be hospitalized and 5,000 will die.

No one can say which food will cause the next scare, but one thing is certain: The threats to our health from the foods we eat are real, and they need more attention.

That's the conclusion of a report published in June by the Trust for America's Health, a nonpartisan public health advocacy group. The report argues that our country lacks the robust system of oversight for the food supply that is needed to ensure public safety.

The causes of failure in America's food safety system are many, the report notes.

They range from obsolete laws to misdirected funding to outdated practices that are failing to keep up with emerging health threats.

Despite sweeping changes in food production, distribution and importation in recent decades, the federal agencies that protect the food supply have not been modernized in more than 100 years, the report says.

For example, much of the money devoted to protecting the meat supply is spent on daily, carcass-by-carcass inspections, as specified by laws dating back to 1906.

Unfortunately, none of the bacteria or other pathogens that cause food-borne disease are visible to the naked eye, so much of the government's effort is wasted.

To get the food safety system back on track, the report calls on policymakers to rethink the ways that food producers, processors and retailers are held accountable for maintaining high standards of safety. Such reform will require an overhaul of current inspection practices and policies, with far greater investment in state-of-the-art technologies, the report says.

Changes like these, if implemented, won't come a moment too soon for Americans who are increasingly concerned about contamination of the foods they eat. A recent poll conducted by the Trust for America's Health found that 67 percent of Americans were worried about food safety.

In the Sacramento area, we are well-served by environmental health specialists who inspect local food establishments and monitor local food safety. But these services and even tighter government regulation will not be enough to eliminate the risks.

All of us need to take some common-sense steps to keep foods safe in our own homes:

• Wash your hands and kitchen counters often when preparing food.

• Rinse all fresh fruits and vegetables with cool water immediately before eating.

• Keep raw meat, poultry, seafood and their juices away from other foods.

• Cook foods at the proper temperatures: roasts and steaks to at least 145 degrees F, whole poultry to 180 degrees F and ground beef to at least 160 degrees F.

• Put leftover foods in the fridge or freezer within two hours. Never thaw frozen foods at room temperature.

About the writer:

  • Dr. Jason Eberhart-Phillips is the El Dorado County health officer.



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