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U.S. Food Safety: Home-Grown Problems Abound
Date:1/14/2008

As the variety of tainted products widens, the concerns about oversight deepen

First of three parts

MONDAY, Jan. 14 (HealthDay News) -- More than ever before, Americans are worried about the safety of the food they put in their mouths -- and with good reason.

In little less than a year and a half, the nationwide recalls of tainted products have formed their own peculiar food pyramid: meats, vegetables, salad, snacks, fast food, even dessert items. The various pathogens in those products killed at least three people, sickened more than 1,300 others and touched almost every state in the country as well as Canada.

And even though the number of outbreaks has leveled off over the last few years, it is the variety of outbreaks that most troubles the scientists and government health officials who deal with them: Many of the contaminations are showing up in foods never before associated with poisoning.

"It's been a little bit of a roller coaster the past 10 years," said Dr. Robert Tauxe, deputy director of the division of foodborne bacterial and mycotic diseases at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "I am struck that I am seeing new food vehicles. New foods are a problem. Spinach was a new one. And peanut butter, there's a surprise. Also the Veggie Booty, or vegetarian snack food."

Not only are scientists puzzled about how such staples became tainted, but they are concerned that U.S. health officials need to do a better job of pinpointing potential sources of contamination before unsafe food winds up on supermarket shelves.

Such improvement in oversight won't come easily, experts noted.

The first obstacle, they said, is an agricultural industry that's becoming increasingly monopolized by a handful of high-volume producers, which means no contamination is small in size or scope.

Making matters worse, they added, is an outdate
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