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Putting Things In Perspective

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, September 27, 2006

Sally Squires, who writes the “Lean Plate Club” column for WashingtonPost.com, writes a column for consumers in which she points out:

Today, the odds of getting sick from tainted food “are overall about a third less than they were in 1998,” says Richard Raymond, undersecretary for food safety at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Though she warns:

All that may come as little comfort to the 76 million people that the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate suffer upset stomachs, gut-wrenching diarrhea, vomiting and other symptoms annually from various food-borne illness. Up to 5,000 deaths, including one so far from the recent E. coli outbreak in spinach, are also blamed on tainted food and drink each year.

On the positive side:

Improvements in the food supply — including establishment of “good growing” practices for lettuce established by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) — seem to have helped reduce outbreaks. (Following the recent E. coli outbreak, those growing practices have just been expanded to include spinach.)

But there is a negative side too:

But as USDA’s Raymond notes, “The bad news is that we still don’t have the science to declare that raw meat or poultry products or even cooked products are pathogen-free. The FDA can’t guarantee that either for fruit and vegetables. We’re both doing a better job, but we’re both still struggling.”

So, in the US, 76 million people get foodborne illness and 5,000 die each year. The food supply is getting safer but still is not perfect.

Seems like this a perspective in which it is useful to view the spinach/E. coli outbreak.

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