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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.

Yet one year later, we are still waiting for Congress to enact food-safety legislation containing provisions that could have prevented the PCA outbreak. Last week, 27 victims and families of those sickened by the PCA outbreak sent a letter to the Senate urging swift passage of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Food Safety Modernization Act (S. 510). These victims know all too well that the longer it takes Congress to pass food-safety legislation, the greater the likelihood that Americans will unnecessarily suffer or die as a result of the nation’s outdated system.

The Senate bill would shift FDA’s regulatory approach from reaction to prevention. It establishes minimum inspection frequencies, requires that food processors establish food-safety plans, and grants FDA mandatory recall authority.

Had these provisions been in place before the PCA outbreak, the company would have been required to develop a food-safety plan. Such a plan would have identified the points in the process where contamination could occur and what steps the company was taking to minimize it. Moreover, FDA would have been inspecting the PCA plant on a regular basis and, once a problem was discovered, FDA could have immediately required a recall rather than rely on voluntary action.  

The Senate must bring the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act to a vote as soon as possible this year. We cannot afford to wait for another event like the PCA outbreak for Congress to finally enact comprehensive food-safety reform.

Chris Waldrop
Director, Food Policy Institute
Consumer Federation of America

The opinions here are the author's alone and do not represent the official policy for the entire Make Our Food Safe coalition.

Originally posted to makeourfoodsafe on Wed Jan 20, 2010 at 03:02 PM PST.

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