Posted by: mkirschmd | July 9, 2009

Food Safety in America: Calm After the Storm

180px-Fried_egg%2C_sunny_side_upFinally, the U.S. government is getting serious about food safety. In the past few years, we have had so many outbreaks of infections from food contamination that our government has finally been shaken to act. Our government health organizations have done a good job in establishing food and beverage connections to these disease outbreaks. Although this is is a critical public health function, preventing illness is more important than identifying lapses in the system. Most of us would rather avoid salmonella entirely than have a government agency or epidemiologist figure out how and where we got sick.

The newly announced food safety rules are an important step forward. Obama’s new rules focus on egg safety, but the administration will be issuing new regulations on fruits and vegetables, beef and chicken in the coming months and years. The F.D.A. will be given additional resources and authority to reduce the risks of food industry contamination.

Not long ago, government inspection of meat consisted of an inspector or a veterinarian visually examining meat. Even those of us without science backgrounds might realize how difficult it is to spot E. coli and other germs with the naked eye. Yet, a pair of eyes was all that stood between a burger and enemy microorganisms on our dinner plates. The new rules and regulations just issued herald the beginning of a new era in food safety. They are significant, necessary and overdue.

The Obama administration is to be congratulated for adopting a Travel Clinics of America approach to health and wellness. Disease prevention is the priority. This is precisely the strategy that international travelers should take before departure and on their trips. Travel vaccinations, malaria prophylaxis, mosquito avoidance and cautious food and beverage choices are all efforts to stay well. While we advocate proper treatment of diseases contracted abroad, our emphasis is to prevent illnesses from occurring.

Soon, the eggs we buy in our supermarkets will be safer. Up to now, food safety procedures have been downright scrambled. The new common sense and hard-boiled recommendations are a huge step forward. Of course, no food safety system or travel vaccination is foolproof. Salmonella and her wily gang of accomplices will still try to poach new victims despite the new Obama barriers. At least now, we will have weapons more potent than a casual glance at a side of beef from a health official. While the odds for success are more on our favor, let’s not count our chickens before they hatch!


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