US PIRG, the federation of state public interest groups, released a report today on outbreaks and illnesses since the House’s passage of HR 2749, a/k/a the Food Safety Enhancement Act, known in its current iteration before the Senate as the Food Safety Modernization Act.  The report, stamped with a red label that reads "Recipe for Disaster," details 85 recalls resulting in 13 known outbreaks and over 1,800 illnesses nationally since the date, July 30, 2009, that the House of Representatives passed its version of the Food Safety bill. 

Among the notable outbreaks are:

  • Wright County Egg recall contaminated by Salmonella enteritidis (1,470 illnesses currently reported)
  •  Mincing Overseas Spice black pepper recall contaminated by Salmonella (272 reported illnesses)
  • Freshway Foods shredded romaine lettuce contaminated by E. coli O145 (26 confirmed illnesses and 7 probable)
  • Caldwell Fresh Foods sprouts contaminated by Salmonella (44 reported illnesses)

The Food Safety Modernization Act would require food manufacturers to develop written food safety plans and to implement preventive measures; it would give the FDA a mandate to conduct inspections of food processing facilities, and to conduct microbial testing; it require high-risk producers to be inspected more frequently; and it would give the FDA the authority to order companies to recall potentially tainted foods.

This makes good sense.  Despite remonstrances to the contrary by those who fear that revamping our almost century old regulatory approach to food safety will entomb small-scale producers, more pressure needs to be brought to bear on manufacturers, who always will be the primary line of defense in protecting consumers against foodborne pathogens.  Giving the government the resources it needs, both in terms of manpower and regulatory flexibility, is an important pressure point in forcing manufacturers to respect the rules that they’re bound by, and forcing them to adopt and respect best practices when there’s no laws on point. .