A new report from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group says flaws in America’s food safety system have led to an increase in food recalls since 2013.
The report, called “How Safe is Our Food?” said that contaminated foods lead to illnesses that sicken about 1 in 6 Americans every year.
“The food we nourish our bodies with shouldn’t pose a serious health risk. But systemic failures mean we’re often rolling the dice when we go grocery shopping or eat out,” Adam Garber, spokesman for the group, said in a news release. “We can prevent serious health risks by using common sense protections from farm to fork.”
The number of total food recalls increased by 10% between 2013-2018, according to the report.
The report acknowledged that while “better science and more thorough investigations” under the Food Safety Modernization Act (2011) may account for some of the higher number of recalls, the group found “serious gaps” in the food safety system in the past few years.
Citing outbreaks linked to meat, melons, lettuce and other food, the group recommended policy solutions to close food safety gaps:
1. Food Production and Testing
- Test water used for irrigation or watering of produce for hazardous pathogens; and
- Set health based bacterial load levels for agriculture watering to prevent contamination;
2. Inspection and Monitoring
- Require plants to identify most common pathogens associated with meat and poultry products as hazards likely to occur and address them in their safety plans;
- Establish clear enforcement consequences for recurring violations of food safety protections or plans;
- Update food safety standards at facilities every 3 years; and
- Declare antibiotic-resistant strains of Salmonella as an adulterant in meat and poultry.
- Improve traceability throughout the food supply chain through network-based tracking technologies; and
- Retailers notify consumers that products they may have in their homes are recalled.
4. Recall Effectiveness
- Require disclosure of retailers selling products for all Class I and Class II recalls, establish a timeline for release of that information, and include packaged goods;
- Grant USDA mandatory recall authority for contaminated food;
- Penalize companies who continue to sell products after a recall; and
- Develop programs for retailers to directly notify customers about food recalls.