Consumers have control over just the final few steps of food purchasing, preparation, and eating. Clearly, food safety needs to be the responsibility of all actors along the food chain.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), the nonprofit organization behind Nutrition Action, believes that the most effective way to prevent consumers from getting food poisoning is to prevent foods from being contaminated in the first place. That’s why CSPI and others are working to ensure that federal, state, and local governments adopt strong, but sensible, food safety policies.
Those policies should provide much-needed protections on farms, at packinghouses, in slaughterhouses and processing plants, and in restaurants and grocery stores. Some of the measures that would make for safer food and that deserve strong public support include:
• Letter grades on restaurant windows disclosing how restaurants did during their most recent food safety inspections. That would not only help consumers choose the cleanest restaurants, but also encourage restaurants to do a better job. Central to that, state and local governments need to adopt the latest federally developed codes for restaurant hygiene. Also, local health departments need sufficient funding to inspect restaurants regularly and to investigate and report outbreaks of foodborne illnesses.
• Tough standards to ensure the safety of the foods produced on farms and then periodic monitoring of conditions on those farms. Standards are especially important for ensuring the safety of fresh fruits and vegetables and better food-chain information (“traceability”) for all food (produce and animals) so that illnesses could be traced back to where they began.
• Much better monitoring of foods for the “sickening seven” pathogens, plus others. That could dramatically reduce risks to consumers. Having a “zero-tolerance” for deadly E. coli bacteria in ground beef greatly reduced those types of outbreaks. A similar approach is needed for common hazards like Salmonella bacteria. Some countries have shown that monitoring Salmonella in live chickens and labeling meat that is from Salmonella-free flocks has real public health benefits.
• Effective enforcement of our food safety laws at the border and in the countries where our food originates. Countries should have to show that their food exports meet U.S. safety standards and are not contaminated with dangerous pathogens or chemicals. Additional inspectors are urgently needed at the border as well.
• Increased funding for food safety programs at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Drug Administration, and Environmental Protection Agency. Each federal agency plays a different role, but all are essential to ensuring the safety of what we eat. They are so poorly funded that the government simply cannot inspect imported foods or domestically produced foods frequently enough or well enough.
Please visit www.cspinet.org/foodsafety for more on CSPI’s food-safety advocacy work.
Other relevant links:
- How to guard yourself against dangerous pathogens while eating out. See: Food Safety While Eating Out
- Are your frozen foods ready-to-eat? See: What are the Main Food Safety Concerns Regarding Frozen Foods
- How can you pack and unpack your food safely? See: Food Safety Tips for Packing and Unpacking Your Food