Egg recall renews calls for movement on food safety legislation

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food safety Foodborne illness

A massive multi-state recall of salmonella-tainted shell eggs has led to renewed calls for food safety legislation to move forward in the Senate, as the number of related illnesses looks likely to grow, according to officials.

The recall covers an estimated 380 million in-shell eggs – and products made from them – from Iowa-based Wright County Egg. The recall affects food retailers, distributers and foodservice companies that distribute eggs nationwide, but does not directly affect commercial food manufacturers, as eggs must be pasteurized for commercial food use.

Food safety director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest Caroline Smith DeWaal said in a statement: “This outbreak demonstrates the need for a food safety cop-on-the-beat. FDA needs a strong inspection force with the tools to mandate recalls, impose civil and criminal penalties, and require testing at farms and production facilities. The agency should be able to impose fines for violations when they find them, detain and recall food, and impose enhanced criminal penalties when companies intentionally violate the law, resulting in harm to the public.

“The Senate should move immediately to pass S. 510 and Congress should move a bill that incorporates the strongest enforcement provision of each bill promptly to the President's desk for signature.”

The Food Safety Modernization Act (S.510) is currently pending consideration in the Senate after it unanimously passed committee in November. A companion bill, the Food Safety Enhancement Act, passed through the House in July last year.

Hundreds have already been sickened by the salmonella contaminated eggs, but

Acting director of the Center of Disease Control and Prevention’s division of foodborne, waterborne and environmental diseases Dr. Christopher Braden said it was hard to say exactly how many illnesses are involved. He said in a conference call with journalists that because of the particular salmonella strain involved, it is difficult to pinpoint which illnesses are definitely linked to it and which are not.

There were about 2,000 reported cases of salmonella enteriditis reported from May to July – nearly 1,300 more than usual.

Rapid spread ‘not surprising’

When asked how the recall has spread so rapidly throughout the United States, director of the division of public health and biostatistics at FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Nutrition Sherri McGarry said: “It is not all that surprising. We are seeing much more centralized production and distribution nationwide and that’s not restricted to egg distribution.”

Senator Tom Harkin, one of six members who last week released a manager’s proposal on the Food Safety Modernization Act, said in a statement: “This outbreak is just further proof of how quickly a food borne illness can multiply across states, sickening Americans and causing widespread distrust over the safety of our food system…The bill pending in Congress would offer additional protection against such an outbreak in the future.”

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