Peter G. Lurie, CSPI President

We should all be able to bite into a healthy salad, sandwich, or sauté without fear that invisible microbes might send us to the hospital with debilitating—and possibly lethal—food poisoning.

Yet each year, one in six Americans are sickened by contaminated foods or beverages and 3,000 die, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (see “Outbreak!”).

That’s why Nutrition Action’s publisher, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, led the fight to pass the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). That law was intended to protect our food supply, from farm to fork.

But our work is far from done. CSPI is battling to ensure that the public’s health does not take a back seat to industry profits or government foot-dragging.

Stop testing swine for E. coli and Salmonella? Not if we can help it.

A few examples:

Track & trace. This past spring, a multi-state outbreak of E. coli infections linked to romaine lettuce sickened more than 200 people (including 96 who ended up in the hospital and five who died).

In May, we and other consumer groups urged the Food and Drug Administration to finalize long overdue FSMA requirements to make it easier for the agency to quickly trace the cause of food poisoning outbreaks.

With current technology, surely the FDA can swiftly determine where a bag of lettuce was grown and packaged.

Limit poultry line speeds. If the National Chicken Council had gotten its way, poultry producers would be slaughtering and processing chickens with no limit on line speeds, which typically reach 140 birds per minute as it is. If carcasses zip by much faster, inspectors could miss fecal contamination and diseased animals.

We and others objected, which led the U.S. Department of Agriculture to reject the industry’s proposal.

Swine slaughter free-for-all. In February, the USDA proposed a plan to shift some responsibility for inspecting pork from trained USDA inspectors to slaughterhouse employees. (No. Really.)

The USDA also wants to end national testing requirements for Salmonella and E. coli and lift caps on line speeds in pork slaughter-houses. (You can’t make this stuff up.)

In May, we (and more than 9,000 of you) urged the USDA to withdraw its “modernization” plan. No word yet.

Naming names. Under pressure from CSPI and others, the FDA published the names of retailers carrying items (cantaloupe, veggie trays, and dried coconut) that were later recalled following outbreaks. That’s progress!

To be healthy, foods have to be both nutritious and safe. We at CSPI are—and will continue to be—your voice in Washington for both.

Peter G. Lurie, MD, MPH, President,Center for Science in the Public Interest

Photo: joycevanham/