Navigation Links
Concerns Rise Over U.S. Food Safety

Recalls, food poisonings point to serious shortcomings, some experts say

THURSDAY, Oct. 11 (HealthDay News) -- In the last week:

  • Topps, which billed itself as the leading U.S. maker of frozen hamburger patties, declared bankruptcy after the company recalled 22 million pounds of beef due to E. coli contamination.
  • Sam's Club issued a nationwide recall of 840,000 pounds of a brand of beef patties believed to be responsible for four cases of E. coli poisoning.
  • ConAgra Foods asked stores to remove its popular Banquet Chicken and Turkey pot pies after they were linked to at least 139 cases of salmonella in 39 states.
  • 145 cases of food poisoning were reported in the United States.

A coincidence? Or is there a larger -- and worrisome -- problem with food safety in the United States?

Experts say the events of the last week owe to a combination of heightened public attention as well as significant flaws in the nation's food-safety system, including both production and oversight.

"This is just all an indication of the problems we have in the system," said Michael Hansen, a senior scientist at Consumers Union. "There's a heightened awareness about it, because the media is picking up on things. The [U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] data shows an uptick of food-poisoning cases. And, in a heightened environment of attention, the government acts more."

These problems are just the latest in a long line of mishaps. For example, ConAgra, which made the questionable pot pies, also made the peanut butter tainted with salmonella that sickened 625 people in 47 states earlier this year.

What's going wrong?

For one thing, it's likely that given the current environment of heightened sensitivity to food safety, consumers -- and patients -- are connecting the dots more frequently.

"I think with the media attention over the past couple of years, people are more careful when they go to physicians to make a connection between some event, especially when they have a gastrointestinal-type disorder, and physicians are quicker to make a connection," said Dr. Philip Tierno, director of clinical microbiology and immunology at New York University Medical Center.

But part of the problem is also the food production and distribution system.

Any one beef patty will contain meat from several different animals. "One contaminated animal can screw up a big batch of ground beef," said Dr. Helene Andrews-Polymenis, assistant professor of microbial and molecular pathogenesis at Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine.

And it's not that easy to spot which animals really are sick, because those carrying potentially harmful germs in their intestines don't have any symptoms, Andrews-Polymenis said.

"Obviously sick animals get removed from the slaughterhouse, but these animals aren't sick," she said. "We have to find better ways to figure out what's going on. One of the ways is doing basic microbial testing on carcasses. The more public money spent on research and food-safety issues, the less we're going to have these problems."

Hansen added that supplies of meat used for hamburger patties will often be used from one day to the next. If it's not kept under strict conditions, it's a recipe for growing bacteria.

Then there's the larger issue of the industrialization and centralization of the nation's food system.

"The [2006] spinach recall was Natural Selection foods. They packed spinach for how many different brands? Dozens and dozens," said Hansen. "When you start concentrating things, a little problem can become quite a big one."

Globalization of food production also plays a part. "We're getting products from all over the world more frequently now than ever before," said Tierno, author of The Secret Life of Germs and Protect Yourself Against Bioterrorism. "The diarrheal disease in the Third World experienced last week may visit your house tomorrow."

Combine these trends with regulatory shortcomings, and the problems are magnified. Experts such as Hansen say there aren't enough inspections of food plants in general. And that's because there aren't enough government inspectors to go around.

In fact, inadequate inspections are just one of a number of problems plaguing the government's food-safety system, experts say.

Another problem is the lack of a mandatory recall authority. All product recalls are voluntary on the part of the company. "The government not having mandatory recall authority is just absurd," Hansen said.

Some have proposed that a centralized food "czar" be put in control of all food-safety issues, rather than the current fragmented system, which is divided unequally -- and many say inequitably -- between the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"They had been talking about making this a cabinet-level position," Tierno said.

Obviously, much of the burden for remedy lies with big business and the government, but there are things consumers can do.

"Consumers can cook things to higher temperatures if they're concerned about killing bacteria," Hansen said.

Also, be careful not to cross-contaminate surfaces. If you've chopped a chicken on a cutting board, clean the board and the knife before using it on salad or vegetables.

"People can focus on things more locally and go to farmer's markets or join a CSA [Community Supported Agriculture]," Hansen said.

More information

Visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for more on food safety.

SOURCES: Michael Hansen, Ph.D., senior scientist, Consumers Union, Washington, D.C.; Helene Andrews-Polymenis, D.V.M., Ph.D., assistant professor of microbial and molecular pathogenesis, Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine; Philip Tierno, M.D., Ph.D., director, clinical microbiology and immunology, New York University Medical Center, New York City

Copyright©2007 ScoutNews,LLC.
All rights reserved

Related medicine news :

1. Reports of Hantavirus infection in India raise concerns
2. Reports Of New Bird Flu Outbreak In China Raise Concerns
3. Concerns About Popular Anti-Ulcer Pill Used For Inducing Labor
4. Advertisements to Assuage Bird Flu Concerns
5. Fertility Treatment And Its Concerns
6. Childhood Obesity Cause For Increasing Concerns
7. Drug - resistant microbes raise concerns
8. Concerns That Heel-Prick Consent May Decrease Testing In Babies
9. Precautionary Recall of Beef over E.coli Contamination Concerns
10. Concerns About Working Overtime May Be Misplaced
11. Childhood Obesity Among Quebec Communities Raises Concerns
Post Your Comments:
(Date:11/30/2015)... ... November 30, 2015 , ... A novel class ... could be effective in fighting methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), one of the major ... showed that small molecule analogs that target the functions of SecA, a central ...
(Date:11/30/2015)... ... , ... Using a combination of two blood sugar tests rather than a ... a new study by researchers at the School of Public Health at Georgia State ... of Blood Glucose Tests ,” published in Frontiers in Public Health, the researchers noted ...
(Date:11/30/2015)... ... November 30, 2015 , ... International telepathology ... UPMC and KingMed Diagnostics researchers. Their review of more than ... with UPMC pathologists resulted in significantly altered treatment plans for more than half ...
(Date:11/30/2015)... ... November 30, 2015 , ... The Foundation for Breast and ... prevention—is joining forces with the award-winning creator and writer of Downton Abbey Julian ... 2015 at the Union League of Philadelphia. , The benefit, titled “An ...
(Date:11/30/2015)... ... November 30, 2015 , ... California-based i2i ... years, announced today that Michigan-based Family Health Center (FHC) has selected i2iTracks as ... years, FHC was awarded the largest Affordable Care Act grant for Federally Qualified ...
Breaking Medicine News(10 mins):
(Date:11/30/2015)... -- --> --> According ... Product (Soft Tissue, All Tissue, Dental Welding Lasers), Application (Conservative ... - Global Forecast to 2020", published by MarketsandMarkets, is expected ... of 5.2% during the forecast period from 2015 to 2020. ... Figures spread through 167 P ages and in-depth TOC ...
(Date:11/30/2015)... and ST. LOUIS , Nov. ... (NASDAQ: ESRX ) today announced an early renewal ... which began in 1999, will now extend through at ... --> After evaluating pharmacy benefit manager capabilities during ... Express Scripts continues to offer the best health plan ...
(Date:11/30/2015)... , Nov. 30, 2015 Booth #4303 – ... VAR ) will exhibit a broader array of products in ... Radiological Society of North America in ... at the meeting will feature X-ray components "At the Heart ... a line of products from Varian,s Claymount brand, and computer-aided ...
Breaking Medicine Technology: