Egg Recalls Reveal Scrambled Food Safety System

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Arizona PIRG

According to Recipe for Disaster, a new study released today by the Arizona Public Interest Research Group (Arizona PIRG), the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Consumer Federation of America, last month’s nationwide recall of half a billion eggs was just one of more than 85 recalls involving 153 food companies since July 2009. 

According to this study, 60 recalls have occurred in Arizona due to contamination by Salmonella and other bacteria related to food borne illness in the last 14 months.  For example, in July 2010, Arizonans learned that baby spinach was recalled and then in August 2010, they learned about egg recalls.  The food was already on store shelves or in Arizonans’ kitchens when these recalls were announced.

“Too many of us heard about the egg recall as we sat down to breakfast and then wondered if the omelet on our plate was safe to eat,” said Diane E. Brown, Executive Director of Arizona PIRG. “The food safety problem is not just eggs but the failed food safety net.”

In July 2009, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Food Safety Enhancement Act (H.R. 2749) to update our food safety net. In November 2009, the U.S. 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 U.S. Senate and Americans continue to be at risk.

Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farm’s voluntary recall happened two and a half months after the first Salmonella illness was detected because the Food and Drug Administration (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. 

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 FDA, 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.