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Food poisoning strikes home.

The terror of food-borne illnesses struck close to home recently when my father developed severe weakness and loss of appetite. He checked into a hospital, where his problem mystified the doctors. Just to be cautious, they gave him antibiotics, and he slowly began to improve. After four days, he had recovered enough to go home. Several days later, his doctor gave him the lab results: the culprit was Salmonella enteriditis, a bacterium found in eggs.

My father's illness most likely was caused by the eggs or an egg-containing food he ate at a restaurant or in my parents' assisted-care facility. He was unlucky to be among the estimated 1.3 million people whom Salmonella sickens every year. But he was lucky not to be among the 500 who don't survive the infection.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), publisher of Nutrition Action Healthletter, works hard to prevent food-borne illnesses. I'm pleased to report that we've achieved one of our top goals--cleaning up eggs.

Roughly one out of every 20,000 eggs is contaminated with Salmonella when it forms inside the hen. (Salmonella is the reason why children shouldn't lick the spoon when their parents are baking cake or cookies.)

Seven years ago, CSPI petitioned the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to require the egg industry to clean up the farms where layer hens are raised. In September, the FDA finally acted.

The agency proposed new rules that would require egg producers to make sure that their hens come from Salmonella-free flocks. And farm owners would have to regularly test their facilities for Salmonella.

If they discovered any of those bacteria, the producers would have to test the eggs and make sure that any contaminated ones were pasteurized and sold as processed, not fresh, eggs. I expect that the industry will try to weaken the final regulations, but I'm confident that in a few years eggs will be much safer than they are today.

Beyond eggs, several years ago CSPI set a goal of cutting food-borne illnesses in half. In fact, since 1996, illnesses from E. coil O157:H7 have dropped by 42 percent, those from Campylobacter have fallen by 28 percent, and those from Salmonella are down 17 percent. Those decreases are due to cleaner farms and feedlots, more careful slaughtering procedures, better processing methods, and more careful cooking practices at home and in restaurants.

We can never completely eliminate food-borne illnesses. However, they could be slashed even further by cleaner farm operations and greater government oversight. (The FDA inspects less than two percent of the imported foods it regulates and visits manufacturing plants only once every five years.)

CSPI is working with Congress and government officials to minimize food poisoning. Our top priorities are to get greater funding for FDA inspections, more testing of imports and other foods, more effective recalls of contaminated foods, and a single food-safety agency to unify efforts that are now scattered among several agencies. I'll report our progress to you in future issues of Nutrition Action.

Michael F. Jacobson, Ph.D.

Executive Director

Center for Science in the Public Interest
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Author:Jacobson, Michael F.
Publication:Nutrition Action Healthletter
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2004
Words:519
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