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CR supports bill to strengthen FDA’s ability to trace the source of foodborne illness outbreaks 

Expanded Food Safety Investigation Act of 2019 would help FDA investigate outbreaks that may be linked to animal feedlots 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Consumer Reports today endorsed a new bill by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Representative Rosa DeLauro that aims to strengthen the Food and Drug Administration’s ability to pinpoint the origin of foodborne illness outbreaks.  The Expanded Food Safety Investigation Act of 2019 gives the FDA the legal authority it needs to investigate concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) for pathogens that may be triggering outbreaks and putting public health at risk.

“FDA scientists have their hands tied when it comes to investigating animal feedlots for pathogens that may be contaminating the food supply,” said Michael Hansen, senior scientist for Consumer Reports.  “This bill will help the FDA protect public health by strengthening its ability to trace the source of foodborne illness and prevent the next outbreak.”

The new bill by Sen. Gillibrand and Rep. DeLauro was introduced the same week that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the FDA announced that they were working to identify the source of an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak linked to ready-to-eat romaine lettuce salad.  According to the CDC, eighteen people have been sickened by the outbreak strain in eight states.  Federal officials also announced a recall of nearly 100,000 pounds of packaged salads shipped to 22 states, saying the romaine lettuce they contain may be contaminated with E. coli.

The CDC estimates that nearly one in six Americans are sickened, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die as a result of foodborne illness each year.  Under current law, federal officials need permission to enter the premises of a CAFO to conduct sampling for pathogens as part of a foodborne illness investigation.

During last year’s E. coli O157:H7 outbreak connected to romaine lettuce from the Yuma growing region, samples taken from irrigation canal water tested positive for the outbreak strain.  The canal was located near a large CAFO, suggesting that this feedlot was the source of the outbreak.  Unfortunately, federal officials were not allowed to access the feedlot to take microbial samples.  Similarly, government scientists were denied access in 2015 to a CAFO that supplied a slaughter plant at the center of a Salmonella outbreak linked to pork.

Michael McCauley: mmccauley@consumer.org, 415-431-6747, ext. 7606