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Food Safety 2010: The Safest Food Supply in the World or the Year of the Recall? 

Melinda Hemmelgarn, M.S., R.D.

"I'm not worried about threats from abroad. I'm worried about the safety of our food."
 — Robert Kenner, Producer, "Food Inc.," 10-12-08, NY Times Magazine

For decades, we've been told by government and food industry officials that Americans enjoy the safest, most affordable and abundant food supply in the world. But is this true?

Despite our state-of-the art technological innovations, at least 76 million Americans suffer from foodborne illness each year. (1,2).

While foodborne illness can happen anytime food is mishandled or contaminated, when our food system became industrialized, centralized and globalized, disease outbreaks became more difficult to isolate.(1,2)  In other words, one bad apple could more easily spoil a larger bunch.

Cracking Eggstreme Outbreaks

This summer, we witnessed the largest egg recall in U.S. history:  550 million eggs recalled from a factory farm complex in Iowa due to Salmonella contamination. (3) For the first time, many American consumers learned where the majority of their eggs come from, and it isn't pretty.  

Reports from the FDA's inspection revealed numerous violations, including 4 to 8 ft. piles of manure in pits beneath the laying operations, plus live and dead flies and maggots, "too numerous to count" inside the egg-laying houses. (4)

In addition to filth, David Kirby, author of Animal Factory, says in the typical egg-laying CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation) hens are crammed into tiny "battery" cages and "given room to move in an area that's roughly equivalent to a piece of typing paper." (5)

A Hazard to Public Health

The Iowa egg fiasco topped a long list of prior -- and continuing – national recalls, during which we scramble to find the source of contamination, then quickly remove potentially dangerous food from supermarkets, restaurants, home and institutional kitchens. Within the last few years alone, we've witnessed nationwide recalls of peanut butter, pistachios, peppers, spinach and ground beef -- all contaminated with the fecal bacteria, Salmonella and E. coli.

In 2009, even President Obama questioned the safety of our food supply, citing outdated laws, disjointed inspection and enforcement, and an underfunded Food and Drug Administration, for creating a "hazard to public health." (6)

By mid- August, the number of recalls had reached a critical mass, and Advertising Age termed 2010 "the year of the recall." Worse, consumers were so inundated with recall news, we became "desensitized" and complacent to additional safety warnings. (7)

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