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U.S. Unveils Stricter Food-Safety Standards

Measures aimed at reducing salmonella and E. coli outbreaks

TUESDAY, July 7 (HealthDay News) -- In an effort to reduce salmonella, E. coli and other outbreaks of food-borne illness, U.S. health officials on Tuesday announced a series of new safety standards.

The standards are the product of a panel formed by President Barack Obama to create safety guidelines for eggs, poultry, beef, and vegetables. The panel also is calling for better communication between the agencies responsible for safeguarding the U.S. food supply, according to published reports.

The new rules follow major outbreaks of salmonella and E. coli contamination in recent months and years.

"The food safety working group created by President Obama in mid-March has come back with a series of important recommendations to make our food safety system better," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said during a White House press conference.

Outbreaks from food-borne illnesses kill an estimated 5,000 Americans each year and send hundreds of thousands to the hospital, Sebelius said.

Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said during the briefing that the goals include strengthening rules related to salmonella in poultry and "try to do a better job of making sure that we detect E. coli in ground beef in particular."

Under the new rules, according to the Associated Press:

  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration will help the food industry create better tracking methods to locate the source of a food-borne illness.
  • A network will be created to improve communication among all the federal agencies that regulate food safety.
  • To find E. coli contamination, the Agriculture Department's Food Safety Inspection Service will increase sampling of ground beef ingredients.

In a related move, the FDA announced Tuesday a new regulation to help make eggs safer for consumers to eat. The regulation is designed to cut down the number of illnesses caused by eggs contaminated with the bacterium salmonella.

The key now is that eggs will have to be refrigerated from farm to market.

The FDA said salmonella is a major cause of foodborne illness in the United States, and raw or undercooked eggs are a major source of such infections. An estimated 142,000 illnesses each year in the United States are caused by consuming eggs contaminated with salmonella, the agency said.

The measures announced Tuesday follow a series of high-profile food-borne illness outbreaks recently.

In one of largest product recalls in U.S. history, the Peanut Corporation of America earlier this year recalled peanut products due to a salmonella outbreak that sickened hundreds, and was suspected of causing nine deaths.

In the last month, E. coli contamination prompted the recall of Nestle Toll House cookie dough, and 380,000 pounds of beef produced by the JBS Swift Beef Co. of Greeley, Colo.

In response to Tuesday's announcement, the Grocery Manufacturers Association issued a statement that said: "Food safety and consumer confidence is the number one priority for the food and beverage industry -- we are responsible for providing our consumers with the safest manufactured goods possible and we take that responsibility very seriously. We look forward to working with the Administration and Congress to enact reforms that will improve food safety, boost consumer confidence and address the challenges posed by today's 21st century food supply."

More information

For more on food safety, visit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

SOURCES: July 7, 2009, teleconference with U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack; Associated Press; June 7, 2009, news release, Grocery Manufacturers Association, Washington, D.C.

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