From lettuce to cookies, avocados to cheesecake, the last few years have seen a number of high-profile food recalls. According to the CDC, an estimated 48 million Americans get sick each year from foodborne illnesses. But the question of whether such outbreaks are getting worse is complicated, due to a combination of improved detection technology, a looser approach to regulation, and growing consolidation in the food industry, as Leah Douglas reports in FERN's latest story, published as part of Time magazine's special issue on the Science of Nutrition.(No paywall)
In a look back at last November’s recall of romaine lettuce, the FDA says that although “one farm cannot explain the entire outbreak,” it is now able to identify potential sources of E. coli contamination by using technology that can track foods from field to consumer.
If a new Food and Drug Administration draft guidance is implemented, food recall notices could begin to include the names of retailers that have sold the contaminated foods, the agency said Wednesday.
Federal health officials closed their investigation into foodborne illnesses linked to wheat flour milled by General Mills with a renewed warning to consumers to look for, and discard, packages of flour covered by the recall. "Consumers unaware of the recall could continue to use these recalled flour products and potentially get sick," said FDA.
One of the top-ranking Democrats in the Senate, Chuck Schumer of New York, called on the FDA to overhaul its food recall process, saying dangerous food now may remain on sale for months before the agency acts.
For the fourth time since May 31, General Mills expanded its recall of flour because of illnesses linked to handling or eating uncooked flour dough and batter. The company said E. coli bacteria, which can cause food-borne illness, "has been detected in a small number of ... flour samples and some have been linked to new patient illnesses that fall outside of the previously recalled dates."
In two recent cases, the FDA waited months before forcing the recall of contaminated food, said Inspector General Daniel Levinson, calling for "immediate attention" to the shortcoming. "Consumers remained at risk of illness or death for several weeks after FDA knew of potentially hazardous food," Levinson wrote to FDA Commissioner Robert Califf in a rare "early alert" warning.