Food Safety: "The Risks of Factory Food"

Jun 9, 2011, 4:30 PM, Posted by NewPublicHealth

"If you think the deadly E. coli outbreak sweeping through Europe is an example of a food safety problem that couldn't happen here, think again."

That's the message in an op-ed written today by J. Glenn Morris, who co-authored a recent Robert Wood Johnson-funded food safety study (read the study here). In the report, “Ranking the Risks: The 10 Pathogen-Food Combinations with the Greatest Burden on Public Health,” the authors list the number of illnesses, costs, and overall public health burden of specific microbes in particular types of food—such as Salmonella in poultry and Listeria in deli meat.

In Morris' op-ed today, he takes a look at the recent E.coli outbreak in Germany and writes that:

"...Our report didn't rank the newly emerged E. coli strain in Europe but we did look at a related version of the same pathogen known as E. coli 0157. We found that E. coli 0157 ranked as the sixth-leading disease-causing microbe in the United States. In addition, our analysis revealed that this strain, which is often found in produce or beef products like hamburger, sickens more than 63,000 Americans per year, with the cost of illness alone coming to an estimated $272 million.

The staggering cost and human toll will continue to grow unless we fix some of the flaws in our food safety system.

Right now, U.S. food safety regulators often react to the crisis of the day rather than act in a coordinated fashion to prevent the next outbreak. Making matters worse, responsibility for food safety is divided among 15 federal agencies, each with its own set of goals, regulations and priorities."

Read the full op-ed here.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.