The job of keeping our food wholesome has become more difficult as food itself has become more complicated, as more processed foods include ingredients from many sources, making it hard to trace the origin of pathogens. For instance, a package of ground beef today is no longer put together by a butcher pushing a single hunk of meat through a grinder, but includes trimmings from many cattle and multiple slaughterhouses. Thus, even a small quantity of meat contaminated with E. coli has the potential to taint tremendous amounts of hamburger meat sent out across the country, describes an editorial in the LA Times.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food poisoning sickens more than 80 million people a year in this country, killing 5,000, sending 325,000 to the hospital and, according to a 2012 study in the Journal of Food Protection, costing $14 billion — which doesn’t take into account the cost of lawsuits and recalls.
The LA Times article criticizes the “byzantine system” for ensuring food safety: “At least 15 agencies are involved, but sorting out the responsibilities of just the two main ones — the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture — is hard enough,” it describes, citing examples of frozen pizza (where the cheese is inspected by the USDA, while other ingredients and toppings by FDA), and eggs (USDA while responsible for eggs out of the shell — and for grading eggs in the shell for shape and uniformity, don’t fully take into account conditions of the egg product facilities).
Recently, based on recommendations, President Obama has proposed a unified Food Safety Administration within the Department of Health and Human Services, and the article describes this as a smarter, more efficient and effective way to protect American consumers.