An antiquated system exposes Americans to unnecessary risks.
By JEFF ALMER and LOUIS TOUSIGNANT
Shirley Almer was a cancer survivor and a fighter who had twice defied her doctor’s prediction by beating both lung and brain cancer.
Clifford Tousignant was a fighter, too. A decorated veteran of the Korean War, he earned three purple hearts in battle, faithfully serving his country for over 22 years.
The two Minnesotans never met but will forever be linked because they are among the nine people who died last year as a result of contaminated peanut products.
Shirley and Clifford were our parents. Had a strong food-safety law been in place, they would likely still be with us.
It wasn’t until well after their first trips to the hospital that we found out they were part of a group of 700 Americans from 46 states to be sickened by peanut products in which the dangerous pathogen salmonella had been found.
Over time, we learned that the outbreak was not just a random occurrence, but part of a pattern of outbreaks impacting tens of millions of Americans every year.
Like many Americans who have watched a loved one suffer from a preventable foodborne illness, we were both shocked and appalled to find out that the nation’s food-safety system is based, in large part, on century-old laws. Furthermore, the agency charged with overseeing about 80 percent of the U.S. food supply — the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) — inspects domestic food-processing facilities on average only once every 10.5 years.
In the area of inspections, as well as other components of our food-safety system, the laws and regulations are severely lacking and simply unsatisfactory in successfully managing what has evolved into a complex global food supply.