Friday, April 10, 2009

U.S. Makes No Progress Against Food Poisoning

By Jane Zhang & Mike Esterl
The federal government said it didn't make any progress in lowering the rate of food poisoning in the past four years, underscoring the need to plug holes in the nation's food-safety system.
The incidence of human infections caused by salmonella, E. coli and seven other common pathogens changed little from 2004 to 2008, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday. Fresh produce, in particular, has led to more illnesses and large outbreaks. One salmonella outbreak -- eventually traced to Mexican peppers -- sickened more than 1,400 people last year.
"We recognize that we have reached a plateau in the prevention of foodborne disease, and there must be new efforts to develop and evaluate food-safety practices from the farm to the table," said Robert Tauxe, deputy director of the CDC's Division of Foodborne, Bacterial and Mycotic Diseases.
The CDC report will likely add fuel to the debate in Washington over how to improve food regulation, currently handled by a patchwork of federal and state agencies.
David Acheson, the Food and Drug Administration's associate commissioner for foods, said the CDC report "underscores the need for change." The FDA needs to conduct more inspections and develop a system to trace contaminants quickly, a process that often takes weeks now, he said.
The FDA has become more aggressive in monitoring food safety, Dr. Acheson said. The FDA recently warned consumers against eating any products containing pistachios after salmonella was found in some pistachio products -- even though no illnesses were confirmed.
The CDC's annual report on foodborne illness uses data from 10 states, along with the CDC, U.S. Department of Agriculture and FDA.