Food Poisoning: A Recurring Problem that Requires Investing in Prevention
Recent news stories illustrate that bacterial food poisoning is a recurring, high cost, sickening (and in some cases, deadly) problem that requires investing in prevention.
Today’s Washington Post includes an online article about how salmonella infections have increased “by 10 percent in recent years.” (The longitudinal data regarding the total number of U.S. cases from 1996 to 2009 can be found here.)
Additionally, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the 2009 salmonella incidence rate was 15.19 cases per 100,000 population, which is more than twice the National Health Objective of 6.8 cases per 100,000.
Elizabeth Hagen, the Undersecretary for Food Safety at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, noted that the incidence of E. coli O157:H7 infections has decreased, demonstrating that more stringent regulation and efforts by meat processing companies in particular have lowered contamination at the slaughterhouse level. However, as the recent outbreak in Germany of the world’s deadliest E. coli tragically illustrates, “new and ‘highly infectious and toxic‘” E. coli strains are emerging from a source(s) that is still unknown.
Compounding the human tragedy, some businesses that sell fresh produce have seen their sales fall 35 percent since the outbreak began. EU farmers’ losses are estimated at $611 million per week. Former FDA Commissioner David Acheson has opined that an outbreak like the current one could happen in the U.S.
Michael R. Taylor, the FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Foods, provided sound advice for the food industry: “investing in prevention is, ultimately, the only way to provide the protection that consumers expect.”