Public Release:  New polls, reports highlight the need to update the US food safety system

Pew Health Group

Over the next several weeks, the U. S. Senate has an historic opportunity to take a major step toward improving food safety for all Americans. That is why a coalition of public health professionals, consumer organizations and groups representing victims of foodborne illness is sending the message that it is time to "Make Our Food Safe for the Holidays!"

Every year, millions of Americans are sickened from consuming contaminated food, hundreds of thousands are hospitalized and thousands die. Multiple outbreaks of foodborne illness over the last several years - from spinach to peppers to peanut butter products - have demonstrated that these outbreaks are not random, unpreventable occurrences, but are due to widespread problems with food safety oversight in the United States.

This summer the U.S. House of Representatives passed its version of a sweeping food safety bill, which includes increased inspections of domestic food facilities and greater oversight of imports. The Make Our Food Safe coalition believes the Senate can take a major step forward in protecting public health by passing legislation that gives the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) enhanced authority to oversee the safety of the nation's food supply by the end of this year.

New polls of voters in selected states - Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Ohio - show overwhelming support for measures that would give the FDA these new powers. The polls, which were conducted in October by a respected bipartisan team of pollsters at Hart Research (Democratic) and Public Opinion Strategies (Republican), were commissioned by coalition member the Pew Health Group. Poll results are available at www.MakeOurFoodSafe.org.

"Families across America want the government to do more to ensure their loved ones do not get sick from the food they serve over the holidays," says Sandra Eskin, director of the food safety project for the Pew Health Group. "Congress should enact stronger food safety laws before the end of the year."

Foodborne illness can significantly impact the health of children. According to a new fact sheet released today by the Make Our Food Safe coalition, approximately half of the reported foodborne illnesses occur in children, with the majority of these cases occurring in those under 15 years of age. Data from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) for five major foodborne pathogens ---Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, Campylobacter, Shigella, E. coli 0157:H7-- clearly show the burden that children are carrying with regard to foodborne disease. The fact sheet also details the health risks associated with Toxoplasma gondii, a common parasite. To obtain a copy of the fact sheet, visit www.MakeOurFoodSafe.org.

In addition, coalition member Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention (CFI) is releasing a report that looks in detail at the long-term impacts of foodborne pathogens. CFI's report, The Long-Term Health Outcomes of Selected Foodborne Pathogens, provides expert descriptions about some of the serious long-term health outcomes ranging from hypertension and diabetes to kidney failure and mental retardation. The report also calls for a new approach to foodborne illness research and surveillance.

"Systematic follow-up of foodborne illness cases will greatly enhance our ability to attribute long-term health problems to acute foodborne illnesses," says Tanya Roberts, Ph.D., an author of the report. "Population-based studies, improved public health surveillance and increased data sharing will improve our knowledge about the sources, trends and health outcomes associated with foodborne disease. Taking this approach will require dedicated funding, but such an investment is necessary to prevent costly economic, health and personal losses."

"The polling and reports released today should show our lawmakers that they need to send food safety legislation to the president's desk as soon as possible," says Elizabeth Armstrong of Fishers, IN, whose young daughter Ashley became seriously ill in 2006 after eating contaminated spinach. "The new legislation may not help my family, but it could save lives and spare others from suffering what we have endured. I want the senators to think about that and heed the coalition's message: Make Our Food Safe for the Holidays!"

###

To obtain a copy of the CFI report, visit www.foodborneillness.org.

Major public health, consumer and food safety groups have formed the Make Our Food Safe coalition (www.makeourfoodsafe.org), which includes the American Public Health Association, Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention, Center for Science in the Public Interest, the Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, Food & Water Watch, National Consumers League, The Pew Charitable Trusts, Safe Tables Our Priority, and Trust for America's Health.

Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.