US food safety systems are ‘broken’, says report

By Joe Whitworth

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food safety, Food, Food and drug administration

Reports look at food safety perceptions in US
Contaminated food makes 48 million Americans sick every year and costs over $77bn in aggregated economic costs, according to a US Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) report.

They said food recalls are on the rise and called the US food safety system ‘broken​’.

In the US over the last 21 months, 1753 people were made sick from foodborne illnesses linked directly to food recalls and the cost was over $227m, said PIRG.  

The report, “Total Food Recall: Unsafe Foods Putting American Lives at Risk​,” analyzed nationwide recall information issued by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) from January 2011 to September 2012.

‘Twice as many outbreaks’

“2012 has already seen nearly twice as many illnesses due to recalls as 2011, with high-profile recalls of cantaloupes and hundreds of thousands of jars of peanut butter,​” said Nasima Hossain, Public Health Advocate for US PIRG.

“More needs to be done to identify the contaminants that are making us sick and to protect Americans from the risk of unsafe food.”

PIRG said during January 2011 to September 2012 there were:

  • 1,753 foodborne Illnesses directly linked to recalls of food products from known pathogens such as listeria and salmonella;
  • 37 deaths directly linked to recalls of food products;
  • $227m in economic and health related costs linked to recalls of food products.

Hossain added: “We must move away from the current reactive approach, where recalls happen after dangerous products have already made it into families’ kitchens, and focus on prevention.”

Recall concerns

A separate report said despite the frequent food safety outbreaks and recalls, concerns about the safety of the US food supply remained relatively consistent with only temporary spikes when there is news of an outbreak.

The NPD Group said that for the period from January through August 2012, on average, 60% of US consumers were somewhat or slightly concerned about the safety of the food supply, 25% were extremely or very concerned, and 15% not concerned at all.

This led them to conclude that the food safety concern levels in 2012 are on par with previous years.

The group cited an example of a spike and then a levelling off, with the listeria outbreak in July and August and product recalls involving listeria contamination.

Awareness of and concern about listeria peaked during the time the outbreaks were widely reported and then leveled off when the news subsided.

“The impact of a food recall on consumer attitudes and perceptions often depends on the amount of news coverage received, or the severity of the situation in terms of numbers sickened or dead as a result,” ​said Darren Seifer, NPD food and beverage industry analyst.

Related topics: Regulation, Food safety

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1 comment


Posted by Russell LaClaire,

Perhaps we should fund FDA which looks at 90% give or take of our food. And, cut back USDA which is in place to help sell our ag products.

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