A Frontline report that used the Foster Farms Salmonella outbreak to show how the USDA’s lack of enforcement puts consumers at risk for severe illness, has prompted Congresswomen Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Louise Slaughter (D-NY) to reintroduce legislation that would require the USDA to recall any meat, poultry, or egg product contaminated by pathogens associated with serious illness or death or that are resistant to two or more critically important antibiotics for human medicine.
The congresswomen first introduced the Pathogen Reduction and Testing Reform Act in 2013 when Foster Farms chicken was linked to a 29-state Salmonella outbreak that sickened 634 people with an especially virulent strain of antibiotic-resistant Salmonella Heidelberg. Among those who became ill, was 18-month-old Noah Craten whose Salmonella infection created abscesses in his brain. To save his life, surgeons had to cut open his skull and remove them.
Noah’s story was featured in the Frontline report which spotlighted the USDA’s lack of enforcement ability and begged the question who is accountable when food makes people sick.
“Companies that make and sell contaminated food should be,” said Fred Pritzker, a food safety attorney with PritzkerOlsen, who is representing the Craten family. But that’s not always the case.
Currently, the USDA will only issue a recall if a meat, poultry, or egg product is considered “adulterated.” Because that term is ambiguously defined in current law, the USDA claims it does not have the authority to issue recalls for meat, poultry, or egg products.
Reps. DeLauro and Slaughter “strenuously object” to USDA’s interpretation of the law, but they want their bill to remove all doubt that food contaminated with pathogenic bacteria that is making people sick should be removed from commerce.
“We urge Congress to pass this legislation before more Americans are sickened by contaminated meat, poultry, or egg products. We need federal agencies that will protect public health, not bend to the threats of deep-pocketed food producers seeking to escape regulation, or choose inaction due to the fear of lawsuits,”
the congresswomen said in a joint statement about the bill.