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Egg Recalls Reveal Scrambled Food Safety System

New Study: More Than 54 Food Recalls As Coloradans Wait for Senate to Bring Food Safety into 21st Century

Denver, September 8-- Last month’s nationwide recall of half a billion eggs was just one of more than 85 national recalls involving 153 food companies since July 2009.  During this time, the U.S. Senate has failed to pass needed protections according to “Recipe for Disaster” a study released today by the Colorado Public Interest Research Group (CoPIRG), Consumer Federation of America, and the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

In Colorado, 54 recalls have occurred in the 14 month period studied.  For example, last January, Coloradans learned that 1,263,754 pounds of salami was recalled from Colorado and other states. A few months later, Coloradans learned that their state was affected by a recall of 37,318 pounds of peppers.  The food was already on store shelves or in Coloradan’s kitchens when the recall was announced.

“Too many of us heard about the egg recall as we sat down to breakfast and had to wonder where the omelet on our plate came from,” said Danny Katz, Director of CoPIRG standing in front of a table of recalled products ranging from parsley to pepper. “The problem is more than just eggs.  When we go to the grocery store we should know the food we buy is safe.”

In July 2009, led by Congresswoman Diana DeGette (D-CO), the House of Representatives passed the Food Safety Enhancement Act (H.R. 2749) to update our food safety net. In November 2009, the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee passed its version of the bill, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (S. 510); but no floor action has yet been scheduled in the Senate and Coloradans continue to be at risk.

"We have waited far too long to update a food safety infrastructure that is largely outdated and ineffective," said Congresswoman DeGette.  "We need a food safety system that prevents unsafe foods from making it to our breakfast and dinner tables and responds quickly when problems do occur.  I urge my colleagues in the Senate to waste no time in bringing this important public health measure to the Senate floor."

CoPIRG highlighted the recent egg recalls as a sign of why action is urgently needed.  According to CoPIRG, Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farm’s voluntary recall happened two and a half months after the first Salmonella illness was detected because the FDA does not have the authority or resources to properly safeguard our food. The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act would update the 70 year old law governing the FDA: requiring mandatory inspection frequency, stronger traceback provisions, and mandatory recall authority. 

Leo Lesh, Director of Denver Public School’s Food and Nutrition Services, highlighted the cost saving merits of the bill.  “For school food service directors there’s an 11 step process we must go thru once we learn of a product recall,” said Lesh. “This is time consuming and costly and we never get paid back the full value of the product or the time it takes to comply with all the steps of a product recall. The importance of this bill is that it will catch problems before they develop and this will save a lot of food borne illnesses from happening, a lot of product recalls and a lot of money.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that tens of millions of Americans get sick every year from food borne illnesses like Salmonella and E. coli, with hundreds of thousands hospitalized and 5,000 deaths each year.  The Food and Drug Administration, which is responsible for the safety of much of the food sold in the U.S., has not had its authority updated in seventy years.

“Foodborne disease in 2010 is a continuing public health problem in Colorado,” said Dr. Elaine Scallan from the University of Colorado-Denver’s School of Public Health Epidemiology Department. “Colorado is one of 10 states around the U.S. that monitors trends in foodborne diseases over time as part of a sophisticated active surveillance network called FoodNet. Its 2010 report showed that the rates of important foodborne diseases including salmonella have not declined over the past 5 or 6 years. Clearly, further measures are needed to prevent these foodborne illnesses.”

The Senate has approximately one month to pass the bill before the end of the legislative session.

“An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure and this bill will help us be proactive rather than reactive,” said Lesh.  

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