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Curt WohleberWriterUniversity of Missouri ExtensionPhone: 573-882-5409Email: WohleberC@missouri.edu
Published: Monday, Nov. 10, 2014
Londa Nwadike, 816-482-5850
KANSAS CITY, Mo.– Each year in the United States, there are about 42,000 reported cases of salmonella infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Because many cases are not diagnosed or reported, CDC estimates the actual number may be close to 1 million.
Salmonella infection is a common foodborne illness that can cause diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps and can last four to seven days. In the last decade, people might recall salmonella outbreaks linked to a variety of foods, from peanut butter to cantaloupe to alfalfa sprouts.
“We know that foodborne illness can happen to people,” said Londa Nwadike, consumer food safety specialist for University of Missouri Extension and Kansas State Research and Extension. “It is a problem, particularly in young children, older adults, pregnant women, and people who are sick and have weaker immune systems.”
Nwadike said the key to making sure foods remain healthy for consumers is preventing contamination before they hit store shelves.
The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), signed into law in 2011, focuses on preventing food safety problems rather than responding to them, Nwadike says. The act, developed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, includes seven proposed rules for those involved in food production to follow.
“The FDA is trying to do more at the beginning of the food production chain to make sure contamination is going to be prevented along the way, instead of just reacting to foodborne illness outbreaks,” she said.
FSMA is being phased in over several years to let the FDA develop specific guidelines, consider public input on those guidelines, and to give farms and businesses time to implement the new requirements.
The law will require most facilities that process, package or store food to develop a written plan to prevent food safety hazards and correct problems when they arise. FSMA includes provisions intended to safeguard produce from contamination during growing, harvesting and packing. The law also gives the FDA expanded enforcement capabilities, including authority to order mandatory recalls.
The consumer obligation
Due to the focus on foodborne illness prevention, Nwadike said consumers could hear about more food recalls, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
“If you hear that there’s a food recall happening, to some extent it means our food safety system is working,” she said. “It shows there are checks in place, and it shows that product is not going into our food supply.”
Food safety measures don’t stop at the retail level, as consumers also have food safety obligations once they bring foods home to prepare for themselves and their families, Nwadike said.
“The government sets regulations that affect the farmers, processors, retailers, restaurants and so on,” she said. “But consumers still need to do their part in handling, transporting things safely, washing their hands and using a food thermometer. Hopefully, everyone can work together to make sure we’re producing the safest, healthiest food possible.”
Information from the FDA contributed to this story. You can read more about FSMA on the FDA website at http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/FSMA/. Consumer-oriented information about FSMA and food safety in general is available at http://www.foodsafety.gov.
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