Long Shelf Life May Mean Continuing Hazard from Peanut Products
Statement of CSPI Food Safety Director Caroline Smith DeWaal
January 22, 2009
The tragic outbreak from peanut butter has already sickened hundreds of people and killed more people than the infamous 1993 Jack in the Box outbreak or the 2006 spinach outbreak. Given the long shelf life of these peanut products, this outbreak may sicken and kill many more if the Food and Drug Administration does not act to effectively remove contaminated products from stores and facilities that may have them. Yet, without mandates for recall and few inspectors, the agency's ability to protect the public is minimal.
This latest outbreak proves again that FDA is woefully inadequate to the task of protecting American consumers from unsafe food. It presently inspects low risk peanut butter plants rarely, or not at all, leaving the job to state inspection agencies. Although FDA is responsible for the safety of more than 80 percent of the food supply, the commissioner must divide his or her attention among drugs, medical devices, foods, and cosmetics. While additional funding could help, with food responsibilities divided between three centers within the FDA, there is no food safety expert in charge of both the policies and enforcement staff to implement needed changes. There is also no credible voice communicating to the public and the industry what can be done to prevent future outbreaks.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest calls on Congress to enact and President Obama to sign legislation to bring the food safety program at the Department of Health and Human Services into the 21st century. One bill sponsored by Representative Rosa DeLauro would create a new Food Safety Administration at HHS. That approach would bring the program elements together and put an expert in charge. Other bills being introduced in both the House and the Senate would create greater food safety authorities while keeping the same fragmented program in the FDA.
President Obama promised a "government that works." When it comes to food safety, fixing FDA's food safety program is an example of a "shovel ready" regulatory reform that could be done quickly and that would bring real benefits to American consumers.