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Food Recalls Up 10% Over Last Five Years: Study

A new report indicates that food recalls have increased by 10% over the last five years, with as many as one in six Americans becoming sick due to food borne illnesses each year.

The report, How Safe Is Our Food?, was released this month by the consumer watchdog group U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), calling on federal health officials to add additional steps to the screening of food products and revise laws that allow manufacturers to sell and distribute meats with known food-borne pathogens.

PIRG researchers looked at historical recall data ranging from 2013 through 2018, and found a 70 percent increase in chicken product recalls, and 83 percent increase in the most hazardous meat and poultry recalls, and a 10% increase in overall recalls.

Food safety officials at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) categorize recalls by a “Class” status. Class I recalls are the most serious, and indicate the use of the product has a high probability of causing serious adverse health consequences, and even death. Class II recalls have an intermediate threat level and indicate the threat of injury or death is still possibly, however less likely in nature. Class III recalls are the least serious in that there is no immediate danger and are typically associated violations of an FDA regulation.

Researchers discovered throughout the study period that Class I recalls, which typically include recalls for beef with E. coli or poultry with Salmonella had the highest percentage of increase.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are an estimated 48 million people sickened each year from food poisoning. An estimated one out of six Americans get sick each year, almost 130,000 are hospitalized, and about 3,000 people die annually from all foodborne related illnesses.

Despite better technology and the passing of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) laws in 2011, researchers have questioned whether we are getting better at detecting outbreaks, or whether the food supply is becoming more contaminated as it enters the market.

PIRG researchers suggest increased testing of water used for irrigation or watering of produce for hazardous pathogens, and setting health-based bacterial load levels for those was water sources. Having this type of testing procedure could have prevented a several month long multi-state romaine lettuce E coli outbreak that sickened dozens of consumers and caused at least 23 hospitalizations, the group claims.

Additional recommendations include the establishment of clear enforcement consequences for recurring violations and penalize companies who continue to sell products after a recall has been issued. PIRG researchers also suggest having food safety standards at facilities updated every three years.

PIRG also recommends requiring all manufacturers which retailers received products subject to a Class I or Class II recall. Currently, manufacturers are not obligated to disclose their retailers, making it difficult for federal health officials to track the spread of an outbreak in a timely manner, PIRG officials said.

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