Food Contamination: Who Is Minding Our Food Providers?

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One of the alarming aspects of the recent government shutdown was the feeling that no one was watching our food supply. Even with oversight in place, foodborne illnesses, also known as food poisoning, sicken one out of every six Americans each year, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

Outbreaks and recalls involving contaminants like salmonella, listeria, cyclospora, hepatitis and undisclosed allergens are a regular part of the food supply landscape. Here are a just a few recent developments: 

  • The producers of Foster Farms chicken issued an apology this week for a salmonella outbreak that caused at least 338 illnesses in 20 states. More than 40 percent of those who became ill had to be hospitalized because the salmonella strain was resistant to antibiotics. Grocery chains have pulled the product from their shelves, but no official recall, criminal charges or civil actions have yet been filed. 
  • That’s not the case with Chobani greek yogurt, which was recalled last month because of mold contamination. A federal class action lawsuit has already been filed against the makers of Chobani by consumers who accuse them of negligence and breach of the implied warranty of food merchantability. 
  • Meanwhile, the cantaloupe farmers facing criminal charges for a 2011 listeria outbreak that killed 33 people entered a plea agreement this week with federal prosecutors. Eric and Ryan Jensen faced six criminal counts, each of which could have carried a fine of $250,000 and up to a year in prison. It remains the deadliest foodborne illness outbreak since the CDC started tracking such incidents in 1973. 

So what can consumers do about the dangers of food poisoning? First, carefully follow safety guidelines like those in the New Jersey Department of Health’s “Chill It, Cook It, Check It” brochure. If your family members or guests show signs of food poisoning, get medical attention quickly.