SENATE TAKES A NIP OUT OF FOOD CONTAMINATION

I am recovering from a mysterious case of food poisoning. It is mysterious because not one of the 19 guests at Thanksgiving table became ill except me. And yes, I carefully washed my hands and counters while preparing the turkey.

The only thing I ate that no one else did was a sour tomato. I suspect it but can’t prove it since my son threw out the container while I was suffering the symptoms of the illness.

The Senate just passed a much needed overhaul of he nation’s food safety system, November 30, 2010, after thousands of people became ill from tainted dairy, vegetables, poultry, meat and other common edibles in recent years. Some of the victims died. In fact, I was wishing that I might pass away during the worst of the symptoms.

Recent legislation passed by the Senate 73-25 revamps the inspection and oversight laws established in the 1930s. The new legislation is aimed at strengthening the Food and Drug Administration that has long been understaffed, underfunded, and a political football The US House must still accept the Senate amendments before the measure can be forwarded to the President, who urged the House to “act quickly” on this critical bill.

The FDA has paid most attention to medical safety in recent times. That’s fine but most of us take a pill or two but all of us eat every day. The FDA is also responsible for overseeing cosmetics which have had pretty much free reign to reach the market. To make things more difficult, a large percentage of our foods, cosmetics, and their ingredients are made overseas in China, India and other countries, sometimes without any oversight at all.

In my first book, Poisons In Your Food (published 1969 and updated in 1991 by Crown) I quoted Howard Bauman, PhD, then vice president of the Pillsbury Company, who, at the American Health Association-sponsored National Conference on Food Protection warned of a “mass catastrophe” in the U.S. food supply: “Can you imagine the runways and control towers of the thirties trying to keep track of and land jets at our airports today? It seems ridiculous, but that’s exactly what we’re doing in the food business,” Dr. Bauman said.

In the Seventh Edition of my Consumer’s Dictionary of Food Additives published last year, I pointed out some of the problems the FDA and other food safety agencies in other countries face. For example:
• The problem of underfunding , understaffing, and shortage of qualified experts
• The problem that almost no regulatory testing is actually done in science laboratories.
• The problem of how the additives in our food may interact with the drugs, cosmetics, and environmental chemicals in our lives.

I am delighted, just as most other consumer advocates are, Congress is trying to pass a law that will help to keep our food supply safer. As you can determine, however, that it is a tremendous undertaking that will cost millions of dollars that we don’t have in our treasury budget. Should our food safety, however, take priority over our wars overseas?

In 1985, the United States had the largest documented outbreak of foodborne illness in the nation’s history. The cause was bacterial contamination in a single Illinois milk plant— contamination that affected approximately 200,000 people.

An epidemiologist with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention whose job it is to track the incidence of illnesses, admits that the reports of foodborne diseases that do filter in to the Centers are only the tip of the iceberg and that the number of true outbreaks is actually fifty to one hundred times greater than the number reported.

I hope a weakened Congress does pass the new food safety bill but I don’t think I will ever find out if it was the green tomato that made me sick unless others report they also had a problem with green tomatos. Usually, people with ordinary food poisoning never report it. You can play an important part in strengthening the new law (if it is enacted), by reporting any adverse event with FDA-regulated problems such as food poisoning: The FDA emergency, 24 hour number, is 301-443-1240

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