It seems as if food safety has been deemed ‘non-essential’. This should not surprise me, as I don’t think that food safety has been a priority for a long time.
A memo from Health and Human Services confirms that we can’t count on the FDA or USDA to protect our food supply.
Activities that would not continue include:
FDA – FDA will be unable to support the majority of its food safety, nutrition, and
cosmetics activities. FDA will also have to cease safety activities such as routine
establishment inspections, some compliance and enforcement activities, monitoring of
imports, notification programs (e.g., food contact substances, infant formula), and the
majority of the laboratory research necessary to inform public health decision-making.
The CDC will be operating in a limited capacity as well, operating with only 32% of it’s employees. Only a few recalls catch the attention of the media, there are dozens and dozens of recalls that fly under the radar. Right now recall notices are not going out and CDC doesn’t have the staff in place to trace and track food related illnesses.
The CDC estimates that each year roughly 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of food borne diseases.
The inspection program for the FDA is already sorely understaffed even when running at full capacity. During 2012, only 10,000 of the 167,000 domestic food manufactures were inspected. Even more disturbing is that overseas there were 1,300 inspections of the 254,000 food facilities that are registered with the FDA.
It is estimated that 80% of our seafood is imported and right now, none of it is being inspected. I wonder how much of it is ever inspected. Hence the reason I consider farm raised seafood ‘risky business’.
So what can we do?
- Buy local – support your local producers. Know where your food comes from. If you can’t buy local I recommend Costco. Costco implements its own food safety standards that exceed those of the USDA. It also conducts its own vendor audits / inspections geared toward not just food safety but also animal welfare.
- Avoid commercially ground meat. The more cut surfaces that meat has the greater chance of bacterial growth. Even without the addition of “pink slime” commercially ground beef comes from multiple sources and often from numerous countries. Besides without labeling you don’t really know if that ground beef contains ‘pink slime’. Get to know your butcher and ask questions. Of course you could always grind your own. Cook all ground meat to an internal temperature of 160°
- Avoid bagged salads and produce. Triple washed or not, I don’t trust bagged salad. Of all the recall notices I receive bagged salads lead the pack. Buy the real deal and wash it yourself in a large clean bowl not your kitchen sink. Adding white vinegar to the wash water (1:3 ratio) kills bacteria, it also helps to keep produce from spoiling as fast.
- Avoid farm raised fish Farm raised salmon has red dye added to the food and is actually dyed red. Farm raised fish are often raised in highly contaminated conditions.
- Clean kitchen surfaces and prevent cross contamination, mix 1 teaspoon unscented bleach with 1 quart of water. Store in a spray bottle. Remake weekly.
- Raw Meat: Great advice from reader Renee: Handle all raw meat as if it IS contaminated. Wash your hands with soap before touching anything else once you have touched raw meat (pork, chicken, beef) and any surfaces that the raw meat might have touched or juices ran onto. If you treat it as though it’s contaminated already until cooked, you can avoid a lot of problems with food borne illnesses from cross contamination.
- Avoid highly processed food. Have you ever noticed that most recall notices start with, “Out of an abundance of caution, XYZ company is voluntarily recalling certain lots of….” My logic is that if they were operating with an abundance of caution they wouldn’t have to recall anything. Besides, all food recalls are ‘voluntary’ – who are they trying to fool?
At this point you are probably thinking I am a germaphobe, an alarmist or just a plain ‘crazy lady’. The reality is, we cannot assume that our food supply is safe, with or without inspections and recall notices. We speak with our $$$ every time we make a purchase and it is time to speak up.