The health staff writers over at the LA Times have written a great article, Eating With the Enemy, on the growing prevalence of widespread foodborne illnesses stemming from products as seemingly disparate as ground beef, romaine lettuce, cilantro, Anaheim peppers, granola nut clusters, alfalfa sprouts and of course, peanuts.  The article serves as a preface to a fantastic and informative in-depth piece, The Science of Salmonella, covering many details of the ubiquitous Salmonella bacteria.  This is the same bacteria responsible for the laundry list of food items just mentioned, and includes the current antibiotic-resistant Salmonella Newport outbreak associated with Fresno, California’s Beef Packers, Inc (aka Cargill). ground beef products.

As the writers aptly point out, “Food-borne illnesses have always been with us, but outbreaks of food poisoning are no longer confined to a select few who ate improperly cooked antelope or who chose unwisely at the company picnic. The sheer complexity of modern food production gives the bacteria responsible for food-borne illnesses almost infinitely greater range.”  This point was well illustrated just this past winter when Salmonella contaminated peanuts manufactured by the now-defunct Peanut Corporation of America managed to sicken over 700 people (although the actual number is probably closer to 25,000), and resulted in the recall of over 4,000 products at a economic cost estimated to be hovering somewhere around $1.5 billion.  And it all resulted from a 90 person company accounting for only 2.5% of the US’s entire annual peanut crop.

To that end, the federal government has finally taken some forward steps beginning with the House’s recent passage of HR 2749, a bill that would, among other things, overhaul US food safety laws by increasing the Food and Drug Administration’s authority to inspect food manufacturers and requiring it to craft a better way of tracing food-borne illnesses and giving it greater recall powers.  For a more in-depth analysis of this dense piece of legislation, check out Marler Blog here.  Farmers and food processors would be required to do their part as well under the new laws.  The Senate is expected to consider a similar measure after its August recess.