On this Thanksgiving, Americans can be confident that their food is produced by ethical farmers and is safe, generally.
But Congress has a chance to improve public health in the final days of its lame-duck session by granting the Food and Drug Administration broader authority to inspect sources of domestic and imported food before it reaches your table.
The Food Safety Modernization Act, S 510, is a long-overdue update to the system of food inspection. The bill faces a crucial vote in the U.S. Senate next week. The chance may not come again for years.
President Barack Obama made food safety an important part of his agenda in the wake of the massive salmonella outbreak in 2009 from peanuts produced by the Peanut Company of America at its rodent-infested plant in Georgia. That outbreak left nine people dead and sickened more than 20,000.
The issue involves much more than peanuts. It affects all manner of products, from salmonella-tainted beef produced at a Fresno-based unit of Cargill and cookie dough tainted by E. coli last year, to Gorgonzola sold recently at Costco.
In August, there was a recall of 500 million eggs from plants in Iowa that caused 2,000 illnesses, followed by another recall earlier this month of 290,000 eggs.
Food-borne illness is a scourge. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 5,000 people die each year from tainted food. Another 325,000 are hospitalized, and 76 million people become ill annually.
As it is, the FDA must rely on producers themselves to voluntarily issue recall notices for foul products. Among its most fundamental changes, the legislation would permit the FDA itself to order recalls.
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