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This past weekend we celebrated Mother’s Day, my fourth one spent without my dear mom, Ruby Trautz. She died in August 2006 as a result of a spinach-borne E. coli O157:H7 outbreak.  Almost four years after her death, the United States still has food-safety laws that dates back to the 1930’s and earlier.

Since her death I have learned that, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), every year in the U.S. 76 million people contract foodborne illness, 300,000 people are hospitalized and 5,000 people die as a result of foodborne illness.

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Sunday marks the second Mother’s Day I will spend without my mother. The second Mother’s Day I cannot thank her for all that she did for me and my family.

My mother, Nellie Napier, was a survivor in every sense of the word. As a single mom, she raised six children on a meager income and was too proud to accept government assistance even when she was making less than a dollar an hour.

As a grandmother of 13 and great-grandmother of 11, she lived her life to the fullest – enjoying reading, putting together puzzles, and cheering on her beloved Cleveland Indians. I never expected to lose her to something as seemingly harmless as peanut butter.

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One year ago this month, the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) was implicated in a large, multi-state foodborne-illness outbreak of Salmonella-contaminated peanut products. In the end, at least nine Americans died and more than 700 became ill in 46 states (with many more cases likely never reported, according to government estimates).

An outraged Congress held numerous hearing to investigate what went wrong. Victims from the PCA outbreak testified before Congress, telling their stories in heart-wrenching detail. Numerous holes in our food-safety net were identified during the course of those hearings and members of Congress promised to address the problems.

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Everyone wants safer food.  And nearly everyone wants legislation that would give the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) new, long overdue authority and resources to improve the United States' food safety system.  

Overwhelming majorities of voters in states across the country – 89 percent of North Carolina voters, 91 percent of Ohio voters, and 91 percent of Nevada voters, among others polled – support FDA reform legislation, according to new bipartisan polls commissioned by the Pew Health Group.  These findings reinforce the results of a nationwide poll conducted this summer, which found that 89 percent of voters support new food safety legislation – an endorsement that crosses gender, age, economic, and partisan lines.  Furthermore, while they disagree on the finer points of the legislation currently moving through Congress, victims' groups, consumer groups such as the National Consumers League – the oldest consumer organization in the United States – and the food industry have all voiced resounding support for an updated food safety system.  Here's why.

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Legislation that will improve the nation's food safety is poised for a vote in the Senate, but it is up to Majority Leader Harry Reid (NV) to bring it to the floor for a vote.

More than three years ago, my daughter Rylee ate a spinach salad contaminated with E. coli O157:H7. She spent one month in the hospital, required dialysis, as well as several blood transfusions, and spent an additional two months at home recovering.  As a mother and a consumer, I want to make sure the food I'm buying is safe, and that I'm protecting my family from unseen, preventable risks.

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Improving the nation's food safety would be an historic accomplishment for Congress, and it is within its grasp.

After several years of high-profile nationwide foodborne illness outbreaks, it is clear that our food safety system needs to be fixed.  

On November 18, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Food Safety Modernization Act (S.510) was unanimously approved by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, and is now awaiting floor consideration.

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As a food safety researcher and advocate at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), I was really impressed by Thursday's Senate HELP Committee hearing, Keeping America's Families Safe: Reforming the Food Safety System.  A confluence of witnesses from a diversity of sectors- industry, government, and the public- participated and voiced agreement on an issue that cannot be denied. And in this era of partisan wrangling, the amount of support showed by both Democrats and Republicans makes it clear that it's truly time for our food safety system to be modernized.  Legislation that has passed the House, and its companion in the Senate (S. 510, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act), would give FDA new authorities, tools, and resources to comprehensively reform the nation's food safety systems.  

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A few years ago my life was much like the lives of many other mothers across the United States. Most of my waking hours were consumed with my job and taking care of my family.  There were times when my daughter Rylee, now 12 years old, would spend the evening in a sleeping bag near my desk at work.  I thought I was doing pretty well keeping up with what was going on in the world by reading the newspaper and watching the news.  Needless to say, I hardly had the time to engage in political activism.

But then Rylee got sick – and my perspective changed.

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People often ask me how I manage to eat, given what I do for a living.  It’s true—by all rights, I should be starving.  As the lead author of the new report just released from Center for Science in the Public Interest, The Ten Riskiest Foods Regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, today is another day when I’ll have a tough time putting anything in my mouth.

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Tue Sep 22, 2009 at 12:35 PM PDT

The safety of imported food?

by makeourfoodsafe

It is interesting to read in yesterday's Shanghai Daily that China -- which has experienced its share of domestic food safety calamities in recent years -- has decided to beef up its scrutiny of food imports.  It might provide a lesson to us.

As the U.S. imports more of its food, the safety of it has become an increasing concern.   The melamine contamination of milk powder in China that killed Chinese infants and sickened thousands of others  and caused the recall of numerous imported food items here in the U.S. shows how vulnerable we have become in a globalized food market.   The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has made the assertion that about half of the food borne illness outbreaks in the U.S. in recent years have come from imported food products.    According to an August 2009 report issued by USDA's Economic Research Service (ERS), U.S. food imports grew from $41 billion in 1998 to $78 billion in 2007.  

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Fri Sep 18, 2009 at 01:41 PM PDT

The Best Cure

by makeourfoodsafe

Less than two weeks ago, Pew released a poll showing that about 9 in 10 Americans favor the government adopting food safety measures. That’s an overwhelming majority. But I wonder what that number would be if the public realized that food processing facilities are inspected on average only once every ten years.

The House took a watershed vote in July – after years of hearings and investigations – to pass comprehensive food safety legislation creating a new food safety program at FDA.  It is now time for the Senate to do the same.  During the many hearings, new outbreaks provided fresh evidence that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lacked essential tools to prevent food safety problems in fresh produce, processed foods like cookie dough and peanut butter, and the burgeoning supply of imported foods.  

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Supporters of local and organic food should be substantially reassured that the new food safety legislation working its way through Congress does not place an inordinate burden on small and organic growers.

"The Packer," a trade publication for the produce industry, reported Sept 14 that FDA Commissioner Peggy Hamburg pledged that the FDA will be sensitive to the concerns of smaller growers and organic producers as it sets any new regulations.  "Everyone has a duty to make their food safe, but there is more than one pathway for that," she said.  She promised that the FDA's food safety rules will be based on an adaptable set of preventive controls.

"It will not be one size fits all. They will be scaled for risk, and they will reflect the needs and concerns of the community," she said in an address to the United Fresh Produce Association's Washington Public Policy Conference.

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