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U.S. Food Safety: The Import Alarm Keeps Sounding
Date:1/15/2008

As America's taste for imported food increases, the urgency for quality controls does also

Second of three parts

TUESDAY, Jan. 15 (HealthDay News) -- One Sunday after church, Rich Miller headed to a local Chi-Chi's restaurant in Beaver, Pa., where he dipped into the house salsa that came with the meal.

That simple act in 2003 changed his life forever. What Miller didn't know was that imported Mexican green onions in the salsa carried a deadly passenger: hepatitis A.

A few days later, as Miller recalled recently, "I couldn't even get out of bed. It was like the worst case of flu that you could ever imagine."

His health quickly deteriorating, the 57-year-old railroad superintendent was diagnosed with rare fulminant hepatitis A disease -- in which the virus destroys the liver -- and was rushed to a Pittsburgh hospital for a liver transplant.

Placed in a medically induced coma for a month, Miller eventually returned home, frail and unable to return to work. To this day, he said, he has mobility problems and neurological difficulties.

Still, Miller considers himself lucky: Four others who ate the salsa and developed fulminant liver illness died. Overall, more than 600 people around Pittsburgh were sickened during what became the largest hepatitis A outbreak in U.S. history.

The story is just one of many over the past few years that have swung the spotlight on the dangers of imported foods, which now comprise 13 percent of the American diet, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Imported Disasters

Perhaps the most high-profile examples of these potential dangers come from last year's tainted pet food scandal and the halting of questionable food products from China.

The pet food disaster, which slowly evolved into the largest recall of pet food in U.S. history, involved exported wheat gluten from China that
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