Food Safety Focus

With stories about the E. coli outbreak in Europe dominating the news, this is a good time to reflect on food safety and contamination risks.

The  New York Times  reports that the cause of the  outbreak of a rare strain of E. coli known as 0104:H4  may have been sprouts grown on a farm in Germany.

What is being described as one of the most catastrophic food-borne illnesses in years,  so far  has left 22 dead and 2,153 people ill, more than 600 of them in intensive care, according to  the NYT article.

Here in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is providing regular updates and monitoring the ongoing outbreak in Germany.

Meanwhile, TIME’s Ecocentric blog ponders the question of whether we’d do any better if a similar major foodborne illness outbreak occurred in the U.S.  given passage of the landmark Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA) last year.

It notes that America has struggled to control recent problems with contaminated food, including salmonella outbreaks that led to the recall of half a billion eggs last year.

Not until the passage of the Food Safety Bill did the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have the ability to order a mandatory recall of contaminated food, it says.

Ecocentric also notes that the cost of foodborne illness in the U.S. is severe, with 48 million people becoming ill annually and hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations and thousands of deaths.

According to a  report from Aon published last year  (and discussed in a blog post here), the increasing frequency and severity of food recalls is prompting greater awareness among food system, agribusiness and beverage companies to insure against such events.

As well as  insurance, Aon  said pre-event planning and crisis management planning were  among the best strategies to improve an organization’s chances of recovery from a major contamination or recall incident.

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