Food Safety and Security
The inadvertent contamination of food is a frequent occurrence, even in advanced industrial countries. Over the past several years, a series of major outbreaks of food poisoning have occurred in the United States. In January 2009, for example, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ordered a massive recall of products containing peanuts tainted with the Salmonella bacterium, which is commonly found in the feces of humans and animals. The source of the tainted peanuts was a factory in Blakely, Georgia, owned by the Peanut Corporation of America, which sold peanut butter and other peanut-containing ingredients to some of the largest food processors in the United States. The 2009 outbreak claimed eight lives, sickened an estimated 19,000 people in 43 states, and triggered recalls of a wide variety of products, including TV dinners, snack bars, and meals ready-to-eat (MREs) for disaster relief. Due to the extent of the contamination, it took a year for all the affected peanut products to be recalled.23
In another incident in the United States in 2010, many people fell ill after consuming eggs contaminated with salmonella bacteria that had been sold in 22 states and shipped beyond U.S. borders. Ultimately, more than 500 million shell eggs under multiple brand names had to be recalled, resulting in lost revenue and a drop in consumer confidence. In response to these and other incidents, Congress passed the Food Safety Modernization Act, which was signed into law on January 4, 2011. The most sweeping overhaul of the U.S. food safety system since 1938, this law requires food producers to identify “critical control points” in their manufacturing processes and to develop and implement food safety control plans.
Food-borne illnesses are also common in other advanced industrialized countries. From May to early July 2011, for example, a severe outbreak of enterohemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC), caused by the E. coli O104: H4 strain, affected more than 4,000 people in Germany and claimed 52 lives. The source of the disease was traced to bean sprouts grown on a farm near Hamburg, probably grown from a batch of fenugeek seeds imported from Egypt.24