Food Contamination Incidents Likely to Increase (Part 2)

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Click here to read Part 1 of this interview with Dr. Sanford Miller, a senior fellow at the University of Maryland Center for Food, Nutrition and Agriculture Policy, as well as former director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.


Some experts have said we are going to see more cases similar to the recent E. coli outbreak. Do you agree?

Dr. Miller: Since I have been one of these “experts” for the last 25 years, I really believe that the number of such events will increase.

The basic problem is the lack of resources and authority. There is also the problem associated with the fragmentation of responsibility and authority for food safety. At least 12 agencies have responsibilities for food safety, as do state and local authorities. The amazing thing is not that we have events such as the spinach problem, but rather that we don’t have many more.

Nevertheless, as the nature of the food supply changes to include more prepackaged, minimally processed foods, many of the traditional techniques we use to protect our food, such as cooking, are lost.

It has been estimated that 81 million food-related illnesses occur in the United States each year, most of which are unreported. It seems clear that we need to seriously examine this issue again in terms of authority, funding, research and organization.


Do we have adequate safeguards on imported foods?

Dr. Miller: Imported products must meet the same standards as domestic products. Depending on where they come from, the requirements may be stricter or involve problems unique to the exporting country.

The problem, again, is the question of resources. The result is that there are not as many inspections as there should be. It is important to note, however, that, proportionally, imported products are examined more frequently than many domestic ones.

Does washing produce at home get rid of disease-causing bacteria?

Dr. Miller: It is always a good idea to wash fresh produce if only to remove the surface dirt and sand. Washing with mild soap will also remove pesticide residues. However, it probably will not remove all bacteria from the surface unless a bactericidal detergent is used.

Tune in tomorrow for the conclusion of this series.

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