retail news in context, analysis with attitude

As food safety issues continue to capture public attention largely because of current worries about salmonella contamination of peanuts and pistachios, the New York Times reports that “Congress and the Obama administration have said that more inspections and new food production rules are needed to prevent food-related diseases, but far less attention has been paid to fixing the fractured system by which officials detect and stop ongoing outbreaks. Right now, uncovering which foods have been contaminated is left to a patchwork of more than 3,000 federal, state and local health departments that are, for the most part, poorly financed, poorly trained and disconnected, officials said.”

And, the Times notes, the problem is getting worse because of recession-related budget crises that have affected government’s ability to oversee the food industry and react swiftly and effectively to contamination scares.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post has a similar story, saying that “Congress must reengineer the national (food safety) system, according to an analysis by the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services, based on consultations with health experts, consumer groups and food executives nationwide … The study urges Congress to invest at least $350 million over five years to bolster underfunded state and local agencies and ensure a basic level of food safety in each state.

“The analysis describes a fractured collection of food safety professionals all trying to do the same thing -- prevent illness from contaminated food -- but their efforts are hampered by weak coordination, poor communication, varying abilities, inconsistent methods and a lack of federal leadership. The report urges Congress to create a single cohesive food safety network composed of local, state and federal agencies and accountable to the secretary of health and human services.”

KC's View:
It’s interesting. Rutgers University released a study last week suggesting that while eight out of 10 Americans pay close attention to news about food recalls, half of those polled believed that these recalls had no direct impact on their lives.

In other words, they think they are bulletproof.

Well, we all know that they aren’t bulletproof. And the numbers are pretty staggering – that an estimated 76 million US residents getting sick from food every year, with 325,000 sick enough to go to the hospital and 5,000 dying from food poisoning.

There also was the report last week that food safety procedures haven't improved at all during the past three years. And certainly it feels like things are getting worse, that there are more and more headlines about food safety issues.