Peter’s Memo: Why foodborne illness is still a threat

Salmonella in peanut butter, hepatitis A in strawberries, norovirus in raw oysters. Those are just a few recent food poisoning outbreaks.

All told, an estimated one in six Americans get sick from their food every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For most of us, food poisoning causes only short-term discomfort, but for some, it means hospitalization, kidney failure, or even death.

Here’s what Nutrition Action’s publisher, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, is doing to make our food safer.

Preventing food poisoning from poultry

Salmonellosis, one of the most dangerous foodborne illnesses, sickens more than a million Americans every year...and that number has barely budged in 20 years. A leading source: contaminated poultry.

In 2021, we formed the Coalition for Poultry Safety Reform—it includes consumer groups, poultry producers, and food safety officials and scientists—to press the U.S. Department of Agriculture to protect us from the most dangerous strains of Salmonella that infect poultry (like Enteritidis and Heidelberg).

And regulators are listening. Last year, the USDA announced a new initiative to reduce illnesses caused by Salmonella in chickens and turkeys.

Preventing food poisoning from produce

In recent years, fresh fruits and vegetables that were contaminated with E. coli or Salmonella triggered sizeable food poisoning outbreaks. Produce outbreaks are a double whammy: they harm some people and could discourage others from eating healthy diets.

The Food and Drug Administration recently proposed rules to curb contamination that comes from the water used to grow produce. In response, we suggested stronger measures, like requiring farms to test their water for microbes and to deal with the most urgent threats to their water’s safety.

Preventing food poisoning from pork

Pork is another major source of Salmonella poisoning, yet pork-processing plants have no testing standards to minimize Salmonella contamination.

In February, the USDA proposed a standard that publicly names—and prompts the agency to closely monitor—any plant that too often exceeds a weekly limit on Salmonella-contaminated items. That’s a good first step, but the USDA didn’t go far enough.

We’re pushing the feds to prohibit facilities from selling any pork cut that exceeds a USDA limit for Salmonella contamination and/or that is contaminated with the most dangerous strains of Salmonella that infect pork.

CSPI will continue to push both food producers and government regulators to ensure that every bite of poultry, pork, produce, and other foods we eat is safe and worry-free.