Recent Salmonella Outbreak Highlights Need to Ensure Safer Food Supplies
July 10, 2008 -- Over the past few months, a salmonella outbreak has infected over 1,000 people around the U.S. The suspect food items -- certain types of tomatoes, jalapeno and serrano peppers and cilantro -- have had the Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other public health officials scrambling to determine where in the cultivation and distribution chain the infection originated, and what can be done to protect consumers.
According to the CDC, there are more than 250 different foodborne diseases. Between June 2007 and June 2008, it found salmonella in peanut butter, cantaloupes, tomatoes, and breakfast cereal; spinach, milk, and beef contaminated with E. coli; and botulism in canned green beans.
It’s estimated that half the cases of salmonella go unreported or unconfirmed through lab tests, and detecting the point of origin for an outbreak can be difficult when attempting to examine the full spectrum of the global farm-to-table process, which includes fertilization, irrigation, various farming practices, transportation, processing, distribution, and retail. Understanding when and where foods become contaminated is a major step toward safeguarding people from the hazards associated with dangerous foodborne pathogens.
The FDA's Tomato Safety Initiative, a collaboration with the state health and agriculture departments of Virginia and Florida — two states with a high rate of salmonella outbreaks in recent years — was created to help improve food safety regulations and inspection across the distribution chain, an important measure in better monitoring and detection of contaminated food.
The Institute of Medicine’s Forum on Microbial Threats convened a workshop in order to explore the nature and extent of such threats, possibilities for reducing their impact, and obstacles to this goal. In addition, the Institute of Medicine and National Research Council published Scientific Criteria to Ensure Safe Food, which analyzes problems with our current food safety regulations and outlines the major components involved in creating science-based, workable, and streamlined food safety standards and practices. Their earlier report Ensuring Safe Food provided recommendations on developing a coordinated, unified system for food safety and highlights areas that need further study.