On Tuesday July 17, 2012, a coalition of foodborne illness victims and food safety organizations called Make Our Food Safe asked President Obama to release key food safety rules that are stuck at the Office of Management and Budget. The rules, part of the 2010 Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), cover produce safety, packaged food safety, and imported food safety.
The administration says that the rules are complicated and that the review of the rules is a lengthy process. But representatives of the Pew Health Group, STOP Foodborne Illness, and the American Academy of Pediatrics say they are outraged that these critical rules have not been released. Erik Olson of the Pew Health Group said that the delays are causing real problems. In fact, he said, “the FDA recently sent a letter to industry, saying they won’t be enforcing new requirements until the rules are issued.”
Nancy Donley, founder and president of STOP Foodborne Illness, lost her only child in the 1993 E. coli 0157:H7 outbreak caused by Jack in the Box hamburgers. She told reporters that “the White House is ‘holding hostage’ three rules that, once enacted, will save lives. These three rules are where the rubber meets the road in putting into place laws that will help protect the public. The longer the delay, the more unnecessary tragedies will continue to happen to families like mine, because we all have to eat.”
Dr. Clara Filice, a Food and Environmental Health Fellow at the American Academy of Pediatrics said that about 50% of all foodborne illnesses occur in children. Very young children under the age of 5 experience foodborne illnesses at high rates, she said. Children have developing immune systems, it takes a smaller dose of pathogens to make them sick, and they have no choice in what they eat. Dr. Filice said it’s important to cook meat thoroughly, prevent cross contamination, wash all produce, purchased only pasteurized products, and always report any suspected foodborne illness. “But personal protections are not enough,” she stated. “FSMA rules must be finalized.”
The coalition wrote a letter to the president, telling him, “On behalf of those whose lives have been directly impacted by foodborne illness and others who may be unfortunately impacted in the future, as well as for all of the consumer, public health and victim organizations that worked tirelessly to get FSMA enacted, we are writing to tell you respectfully that we cannot wait any longer.” The group also took out an ad in the New York Times, telling the President “we’ve waited long enough to implement FSMA.”
The Pew Health Group has released a chart, stating that at least 149 FDA-regulated foods have been recalled for potential contamination by pathogens since the law was signed in January 2011. Those recalls include jalapeno peppers and sprouts for Salmonella, cheese and eggs for Listeria, and spinach and strawberries for E. coli 0157:H7. They also have an interactive map showing state-by-state foodborne illness outbreaks in the last 18 months.