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Improved safety standards and traceability needed for produce

July 1, 2008

Improved Safety Standards and Traceability Needed for Produce
Salmonella Outbreak Shows Weaknesses in Safety System

Washington, DC—Consumers Union calls on Congress to mandate traceability for fruits and vegetables and for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to establish strong safety standards for produce in light of FDA’s continued difficulties in determining the source of the recent outbreak of salmonella in food.
As the number of identified salmonella infections topped 800, the FDA announced today that it had still not identified the cause of the problem and was broadening its investigation from tomatoes to include other produce that might be eaten with tomatoes.
“The FDA should not have to spend its modest resources trying to track down the source of food contamination for weeks and even months, while more consumers continue to get sick,” said Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives at Consumers Union. “When foodborne illnesses do occur, it shouldn’t be so hard to trace them back to the source. Congress should require modern electronic recordkeeping systems that go from farm to table. If Fed Ex can keep track of all its packages moving around the country, the produce industry should be able to do the same,” Halloran added.
Consumers Union has called for more funding for the FDA to perform yearly inspections of processing plants, for the agency to develop operating plans for food processing facilities that insure safety, and for domestic and foreign food producers to be required to be certified as in compliance with these safety plans and with U.S. food safety standards. In addition, trace-back systems that include package identifiers allowing each product to be traced back to the field in which it originated are needed to further protect consumers from contaminated food. CU has also called for consolidation of the 15 agencies that oversee our food safety system.
“The FDA needs to be much more effective in enforcing food safety standards,” added Halloran. “We are in a global economy, with tomatoes from Mexico and fish from China for sale on a daily basis in our supermarkets,” said Halloran. “The FDA needs to be upgraded and modernized to meet these challenges.”
For the latest information on the tomato situation and other safety issues, see
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Jennifer Fuson
(202) 462-6262