In cooking, the process of clarification entails straining out extraneous muck from liquids so that they might be pure, clear and ideal for consumption. With this series on food terminology and issues we're attempting to do the same.
If it seems food safety issues are on the rise, that's because they are. About 48 million people contract some form of food poisoning each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Even in the midst of a government shutdown, crises like the current salmonella outbreak occur. But the question on many people's minds is whether the federal investigators in charge of food safety are still around to protect the public, or if they too have been furloughed.
According to a Department of Health and Human Services contingency plan, the Food and Drug Administration "will be unable to support the majority of its food safety, nutrition, and cosmetics activities” in the event of a government shutdown. However, that plan identifies approximately 700 FDA staff members who would remain to “inspect regulated products and manufacturers, conduct sample analysis on products and review imports offered for entry into the U.S. This number includes active investigators who will be needed to perform inspections.”
The United States Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service has 9,633 employees, 8,415 of whom are still working. A little more than 1,200 employees are furloughed but field inspections of meat, poultry and egg products continues, according to Dr. Elisabeth Hagen, Under Secretary for Food Safety at the USDA.
“Bottom line they are on the job and reporting to work,” Hagen told CNN. “The Foster Farms alert (related to the Salmonella outbreak) is a result of an ongoing investigation.”
So despite the government shutdown, food safety inspections remain at, or nearly at, normal levels. But that may not be as safe as you think.
For example, at any given time the FDA is responsible for watching over some 167,000 domestic food facilities or farms, and another 421,000 facilities or farms outside the United States, according to FDA officials. But there are only about 1,100 inspectors to oversee these facilities, officials told CNN in 2012.
There is a third party audit system, where farms or facilities hire auditors to inspect their premises and provide scores. But some say the audit system is full of conflicts of interest; shortly before Jensen Farms in Colorado caused a listeria outbreak that killed 30 people, a private inspection company’s auditor gave them a “superior” grade, even after noting that they had no anti-microbial solution in place to clean their cantaloupes.
Here is a breakdown of each of the government agencies in charge of food safety:
Stands for: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Food Safety Role: In the food safety chain, the agency's mission is to protect the American public from health threats, usually in the form of food-borne illness.
The CDC works in tandem with the Food and Drug Administration to investigate individual cases and outbreaks of food-borne illness (primarily bacteria-based like listeria, salmonella and E. coli) and trace them back to their origin.
The CDC started the Foodborne Diseases Centers for Outbreak Response Enhancement (FoodCORE) in 2009 to develop and perfect methods to detect, investigate, respond to, and control multi-state outbreaks of food-borne diseases. Centers currently exist in Connecticut, Ohio, New York City, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah and Wisconsin.
Stands for: Food and Drug Administration
Food Safety Role: The FDA regulates all food not overseen by the USDA, which inspects poultry, meat and processed egg products. The FDA has a multi-faceted role in the food safety chain, which can be broken down like this:
- Food defense: The FDA works with other governmental agencies and private businesses to prevent and reduce the risk of malicious attacks on the food system from terrorists, criminals, counterfeiters and others who would seek to harm the public. The FDA provides a tool for private businesses to use to build their own defense plan.
- Recalls: The FDA keeps the public apprised of voluntary recalls by food companies, and recently gained the authority to issue mandatory recalls of foods that have a "reasonable probability" of being adulterated or misbranded and could cause serious illness or death to humans or animals.
- Emergencies: In times of emergencies and weather crises like flooding, tornadoes, hurricanes or power outages, the FDA and CDC provide information and guidelines for food storage and disposal.
- Outbreaks: The Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation (A different CORE than the aforementioned CDC FoodCORE) network manages outbreak response, as well as monitoring activities after an illness has been identified. It was designed to streamline efforts across the agency, and develop strategies to prevent and identify future threats to the food system.
- Labeling: The FDA is responsible for assuring that foods sold in the United States are safe, wholesome and properly labeled. This applies to foods produced domestically, as well as foods from foreign countries, and is overseen by the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN).
Stands for: Food Safety and Inspection Service
Food Safety Role:: FSIS is the public health agency in the USDA in charge of making sure that the nation's commercial supply of meat (excluding game meats), poultry, and egg products is safe, wholesome, and correctly labeled and packaged. This is accomplished several ways.
- Inspections: FSIS inspectors inspect animal carcasses before and after slaughter to ensure that no diseases are present, take samples for inspection, monitor the safety of animal feed and medications and enforce regulations such as temperature control, trimming and sanitation procedures.
At egg production facilities, FSIS agents inspect all egg products, with and without added ingredients, including whole eggs, whites, yolks, and various blends - with or without non-egg ingredients - that are processed and pasteurized. FDA, rather than FSIS is responsible for the inspection of egg substitutes, imitation eggs, and similar products.
- Recalls: When FSIS determines that a food item poses a risk to the public, the agency forms a committee to determine if a recall is needed, and collaborates with producers to make sure that the product is contained, and that the public has received adequate warning via the media and the FSIS website. If a risk is posed, but it is determined that a recall is not needed, FSIS will issue a public health alert.
- Labeling: FSIS develops and provides labeling guidance, policies and inspection methods in order to protect consumers from misbranded and economically adulterated meat, poultry, and egg products. This is to ensure that all labels contain accurate, truthful information.
Stands for: United States Department of Agriculture
Food Safety Role: The USDA has primary responsibility for the safety of meat, poultry and certain egg products. The agency's authority is regulated by: the Federal Meat Inspection Act, the Poultry Products Inspection Act, the Egg Products Inspection Act and the Humane Methods of Livestock Slaughter Act.
The agency is also responsible for inspecting all meat, poultry and egg products sold in interstate commerce, and re-inspecting imported meat, poultry and egg products to makes sure they meet United States safety standards. The USDA inspects eggs in processing plants before and after they are broken for further processing. FSIS falls under the governance of the USDA.
The USDA is the leader in setting the federal policies that determine national standards for food safety, and has also maintained the Meat and Poultry Hotline (888-674-6854) since 1985. The agency introduced AskKaren.gov in 2004, and mobile Ask Karen on 2011 and claims the combined sites now have a nearly 99 percent self-service rate, meaning that nearly all users are able to find the answers to their questions almost immediately.
NOAA and NMFS
Stands for: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and National Marine Fisheries Service
Food Safety Role: The FDA is the primary agency responsible for ensuring the safety, wholesomeness, and proper labeling of domestic and imported seafood products. But the NMFS, which is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, conducts, a voluntary, fee-based seafood inspection and grading service under NOAA. This program focuses on marketing and quality attributes of domestic fish and shellfish, per the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946. These services are provided nationwide, in U.S. territories and in foreign countries.
Stands for: Department of Health and Human Services
Food Safety Role: HHS is the parent organization of the FDA and the National Institutes of Health. The agency is currently working in collaboration with federal food safety partners and the President’s Food Safety Working Group (FSWG), to develop a flexible and responsive food safety system.
The stated goals of the FSWG include prioritizing prevention, strengthening surveillance and enforcement and improving response and recovery. The group is chaired by Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.
HHS also maintains the FoodSafety.gov website, which consolidates recalls, alerts, food safety and food poisoning information, as information about reporting food problems.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Food and Drug Administration's Recalls, Market Withdrawals, & Safety Alerts
FDA Food Safety
United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety Education
Salmonella outbreak linked to tainted chicken
Food poisoning: What you need to know
More on food poisoning from CNN Health and all food-borne illness coverage on Eatocracy
Very good article! We are linking to this great content on our website. Keep up the good writing.
When your in the store, USE the plastic bags provided to keep you purchases off of the counter and movable belt at the checkout!
Back home, wash or rinse all produce and fruit befor eating.
I've enen use antibacterial soap on hard skinned fruit and produce, just rinse it well before eating or cutting!
I am less worried about food safety and more worried about animal welfare, in this case.
To all these people who think the government is unnecessary because there hasn't been a major catastrophe after a week of a shutdown – do you also believe that smoking cigarettes is harmless because you smoked for a week and haven't been diagnosed with lung cancer?
The longer this goes, the more the effects will add up. And then you'll all be screaming.
Government wants you to play a role in the "shutdown" of the federal government. Your role is to panic.
If the public starts noticing that life goes on as usual without all 3.4 million federal workers, we might get dangerous ideas, like doing without so much government. Politicians don't want that.
Well, life isn't going on for those 3.4 million federal workers, many of whom have useful skills and perform useful functions (unlike the politicians in the lot who are still getting paid through all of this).
"I like turtles..."
I am looking out for My food safety.I don't trust anyone else to do it.
What you said!
"Who is looking out for your food safety?"
I suspect that while food producers may pay heed to government agencies, the one thought that keeps them awake at night and makes them double double check everything for safety is ... lawyers.
Nope, they have allowed for laws that basically makes them immune to such lawsuits. Remember this, a beef provider could sell beef he knows is highly contaminated with pathogens that will cause mass deaths, not warn the public, and people start dying, the government will not be allowed to inform the public as to the cause. Since information as to the cause of the deaths is suppressed, people will have a very hard time suing.
Doug – you sound like you know your stuff, so I'll take your point. However there do appear to be cases where litigation has been successful (eg family of Robert Danell v Beef Products Inc).
I hope your comment was sarcastic, because "Doug" is almost 100% clueless when it comes to 'his' knowledge of inspection.
The Robert Danell case has not even gone to trial, yet alone be successful.
For the second person, you are obviously either someone very ignorant or an industry shill, nothing I have said is false. You really need to educate yourself on the issue, and talk to real experts, not industry shills.
@Doug – according to the industry newspaper the case was settled out of court for undisclosed damages.
I am neither ignorant nor an industry shill, but you definitely qualify for the former.
I suppose you've never heard of Jack-in-the-Box? or Hudson Foods? And just how do you think Bill Marler stays in business? Educate yourself, before you start calling everybody with the CORRECT information ignorant.
Jack in the Box is not a supplier of raw meat products.
The fact is all safety measures and inspections are voluntary. They are not mandatory.
The fact is – you don't know what you're talking about. GRADING is voluntary. Federal INSPECTION for wholesomeness is mandatory if the product is intended to enter interstate commerce, and has been since at least 1958.
You really should give it a rest before you show yourself to be a complete idiot.
Doug, What? is right....
And Who?s on first.... (Sorry, couldn't resist, it's been a looong day...)
I'm on second, not in right ;)
I don't know which one makes me more sad: The shutdown itself, or the appalling ignorance that the (obvious) Republican shills and Fox News Zombies who are entering comments here.
The shutdown in US is political.their president is equal to the task,not like ours who's forget problems in the country and focus on 2015 re-election. May god see us through. Thanks
The FDA is packed with former chemical and drug company executives whose loyalty is still with them. They need to be dissolved. Many more of us are now avoiding supermarkets and growing our own and/or only shopping farmer's markets.
Homemade food will never be as safe as something produced with statistical controls. If you want to feed 300 million people, you need lots of food. Distributed production is inefficient and less safe. Because math. Sorry.
Stop buying sushi from vending machines and gas stations!
Haha, they get what they deserve!
its a good day to be vegan.
It's never a good day to be vegan. At the end of it you'll still be dead, but you won't have truly lived.
Now where's my chocolate?
I make money off of people who trash their bodies and die a prolonged, expensive death.
Thank you for your contribution to my healthcare business and keep up the good work. Someone has to finance my lifestyle.
(If my customers were vegan, I would be out of business.)
Vegan isn't necessarily healthy. I have a vegan friend who downloads seitan like crazy, and eats those ridiculous 50-ingredient faux meat things with hexane-processed TVP (textured soy/vegetable protein) stuff like crazy. Me, I opt for veggies and pastured meat.
@wadej420: because vegans don't have to deal with food safety issues?
If produce is not organic then as well be unsafe thanks to monsanto. Forget about meat, no one cares about the consumer and forget about the proper treatment of animals. Eat organic if you can, it even tastes better. Meat contains cholesterol and fat, and causes a lot of health problems.
Organic produce is 100% safe?
Obama is using his lame Obama Sequester tactics. Cut critical services and cry bloody murder.
Close the National Mall from US Citizens and Veterans, then hold a criminal immigration amnesty rally?!
Obama = Lefendary FAIL!!!
Oh no!!! The sky is falling! Uncle Sam, SAVE US!!!!
No, that wasn't me. That was just a leaf. It is fall.
Pathetic. More scare tactics from the liberal government and CNN... because you American citizens are just too weak and don't know any better. You need to hide behind a union or the government to protect you... in exchange for what????
Are you running a script, or something?
At any rate, I do get most of my food at farmer's markets, which unless it is meat is not mandated to get governmental inspection. Not everyone has that choice, and I'd certainly not want to get governmental oversight out of the business of checking up on things.
Most food manufacturers do the right thing and put food safety at the top of their list. Often the "food safety issues" are the result of an employee or group of employees not following proper sanitation procedures. Unfortunately, the company must take the responsibility of an employees error. When I see comments about consumers shopping farmers markets because they feel the food is safer.....I not so sure "safer" is accurate. Farmers market products do not have the luxury of having an in house laboratory to test for micro organisms. Many smaller organic manufacturers are not educated like the larger companies and have poor practices in place, and would never pass a plant audit from on of our nations larger food manufacturers. Want to be safe......cook to kill!
Yep, no more spinach salad. Hmmm, no more salad....
I think you should personally sign a waiver saying you don't need no stinkin govt and their food inspection. Why don't you go out and buy some chicken now. Eat it while imagining that all those people no longer at work at the CDC or inspecting our food that means nothing. Trust in corporations not to cut corners now that there's not enough govt workers to inspect your workplace–Did you notice that 3 miners died this weekend. Nothing to worry about at all.
The tea party and libertarians would take us back to the 1900's when those wonderful trustworthy meat companies who only cared about their customers (sarcasm intended), let Upton Sinclair to expose them, and led to government inspections. You really trust corporations to take care of their customers? Hah!
it is a known fact that raw chicken contains pathogens which with proper cooking are killed. Are we sure the root cause the lack of USDA presence or could it be from lack of proper cooking. More regulations are not going to solve this problem, unless all food is cooked for us, How dumb are we getting. Just a thought.
I agree in that we don't need MORE regulations. But we do need oversight when, say, the spinach is contaminated. I mean, many folks eat that raw, and there shouldn't be reasons we should have to cook everything we buy. However, yes, you are right with the chicken.
All the additives, preservatives, and salt mixed in with fake meats are killing us.
Who gets to decide what is essential and what is not. I would think the CDC would come before obamaphone distribution.
Obamaphone? Not sure if trolling or just misinformed.
Maybe it's a new app we haven't heard of yet???? ;)
Good grief. Still spreading the lies about the "obamaphones"? Really? Maybe more people would support you tea party people, if you would quit lying. Lies are not the way.
It is frightening to think that so many safety nets are not there anymore. Face it, nobody is taking care of us. Surely not the Tea Partiers who shut themselves up in their gated communities and watch nothing but F aux N ews
Without the Govt. you are not going to make it. Your life depends on them.
"Face it, nobody is taking care of us."
Wow, I didn't know people actually think like this. I'm doing just fine taking care of myself and I'm going to take a guess and say I'm not the only one. It's astonishing that the colonists ever survived without the English Crown right there holding their hand the entire time. I'm surprised you were even able to post a response on this article without a federal government agency set-up to do all the typing and thinking for you.
Hopefully this is all just the beginning and the Federal Government Bubble is going to pop pretty soon. Grab a copy of the U.S. Constitution, as it provides a nice simple list of Federal employees that are essential. State and local governments can start to withhold federal income taxes from federal collection and use the money to provide the services that they were meant to provide.
Hang on to your hat, cause it's gonna get bumpy!
I weep for you idiots that believe this nonsense.
They're probably planning this so thy can kill millions of us off and not be responsible.
Monger that fear CNN. Monger it!
Finally, we're free to shove as much salmonella as we can into our brand with no consequences at all.
common sense is keeping MY food safe
Our federal government's role is food safety is a sham.
2,4-D is a Monsanto chemical that was used in agent orange. They spray food with it all day long and Monsanto dictates what is safe or not to our government. So the answer is nobody is making food safe, they have been bought.
Monsanto already banned in other countries.
They also manufacture roundup weed killer.
A whole company is banned, or its products? And yes, they do manufacture Roundup. Because of its use, dozens of proven-harmful pesticides aren't used anymore. Glyphosate (roundup) may be harmful, but the evidence is inconclusive. However, the earlier pesticides were CERTAINLY harmful.
Monsanto might do bad business, but don't throw out the baby with the bath water.
Nobody, government is shutdown. Good luck out there.
If you aren't growing it, and preserving it, and cooking it your self it isn't safe. It is a game of roulette.
have you tested for listeria, salmonella and botulism in your homegrown product? Do you have the capability? What is the kill step for your canned good? Are you relying on Internet-distributed meme canning, or do you know the density and heat capacity of the foods you're cooking?
Home-grown and packaged food has gotten more people sick than statistically-controlled manufacturing.
I don't think anyone is really looking out for the consumer. I don't think they can, they have to mass produce to feed the masses. We are purchasing garbage from our grocery stores, but we have no choice in the matter or else many would starve.
The government agencies are only secondarily responsible for food safety. The manufacturers/processors are primarily responsible and they do an outstanding job. The government inspectors are rarely present in the processing facilities(except for slaughter houses and a few other places). Ninety-nine percent of the time in 90% of the factories the inspectors are not there; the company is responsible and all of them are required to have strict quality controls in place. The US food supply is very safe; the occasional problem is a big exception to the norm.
It is all voluntary, even if a company found out its chicken was contaminated with highly pathogenic avian influenza, it could still sell the product to unsuspecting consumers.
A big thing this article leaves out, everything the FSIS does is 100% voluntary, in fact it has no authority to order an inspection, or to prevent the sale of uninspected meat. It has no authority to order a recall, or to warn the public about contaminated meat, unless given consent by the meat provider. In short the FSIS provides little to no safety to public. It is time the public learns the truth, that food safety laws in this country are no better than China.
Ok Doug, enough is enough. If were were actually using facts as opposed to the fear mongering you are trying to worry people with you would realize that the US is currently (yes as we speak) going through the LARGEST food regulatory reform since the 1930's. It's called the FMA (Food Modernization Act) and it is a big step in updating outdated food laws and regulations.
Also as someone who works in Food Quality at a company regulated by FDA (which by the way ALL food companies in the US are LEGALLY required to do or else face shut down) I can't begin to tell you all of the care and caution that goes into food preparation in the US. There are entire programs dedicated to food safety and Quality (HACCP for example). It breaks my heart to see so many people talk about how bad food regulation is in the US. In actuality, the US has a great regulation program (on par with Australia).
I wish people would also think about rising costs of food and how those are associated with rising food costs. Implementing regulations aren't free folks. It takes real people real time and resources to implement, observe, train, and enforce new rules. Please keep in mind that a majority of the food industry in the US really is dedicated to provideing safe quality food.
Watch Food, Inc., a DVD about the US food industry, and then tell me our food is safe. You will find Monsanto in this documentary as well.
Your logic is horrible. You're disproving the safety record of an entire industry with a DVD, and saying there's a company on that DVD?
Go to a critical thinking class.
1. 99% of food safety regulation are strictly voluntary.
2. The USDA has no authority to force any meat supplier to undergo safety inspections, or order a recall.
3. The USDA has no authority to warn public of known contaminated products without consent of the supplier.
4. The Industry claims it is safety oriented, but the fact is it has blocked any laws attempting to make inspections mandatory, any laws giving the USDA more authority to warn the public, or issue recall. The industry has shown it places profits far above public safety.
1) Every meat product sold into interstate commerce MUST be inspected by the USDA, by regulation. There's nothing voluntary about it.
2) No meat plant producing products for interstate commerce are allowed to operate unless a USDA inspector is on-site while production takes place.
3) Every USDA inspector has the authority to put a HOLD on product that is deemed unsafe, thus preventing it from entering commerce.
You really are a misinformed individual.
Our laws may not be any better, but our safety record seems to be much better. Maybe laws are only part of the solution.
False, we have no way of knowing of contaminated meat outbreaks, we could have had many deadly outbreaks, but the knowledge is not permitted to be given to the public, without consent of the supplier. Remember suppliers are legally allowed to sell food contaminated with deadly pathogen, and the USDA has no authority to stop them.
Not false, you just have been fed industry propaganda. FACT is basically all food safety "regulations" are 100% voluntary and are not enforceable by any government body.
I am going to have to agree with Michael H. on this one. I work in the poultry industry and with the HACCP and Quality guidelines, along with USDA and FSIS inspections, there is nothing but cutomer focus and food safety intiatives in this industry. Not to mention that every monday I sit in a meeting where we reveiw customer complaints and compare to demographics and sales for the prior week as well as perform a sensory assesment of our own in which we develope corrective actions to eliminate and dissatisfaction with our products. As far as the FSIS goes, they hold us accountable all costs. They are here working today with no knowledge of when they will be recieveing a pay check.
Any brand of food product will only be as good as a satisfied customer, so if you really think about it, we are not in the food business, we are in the people buisness, and what we do, what I do, is a great thing, its a noble thing. We provide food for people all over the world and we do it by developing plans, meeting regulations, and execution.
Industry Propaganda. Fact is the industry has proven it cares nothing about food safety when it blocks any laws making safety inspections mandatory, when it blocks any laws allowing the USDA to warn public of contaminated food, or even issue recalls.
"has proven it cares nothing"
Internet propaganda and a fool's conclusion. Any food worker need only twist ONE knob to kill thousands. If the industry indeed cared nothing, why isn't that happening daily?
Anytime anyone suggests that government spending could be curtailed the media throws out fears of foot poisoning, disease outbreaks, a return to the stone ages in medical technology, no weather forecasting, etc. OK, let's all agree that the 10% of the budget (at most) spend on weather forecasting, food inspection, NIH and CDC is well spent. We can stop talking about those and just fund them. Now, about the other 90%...
The problem is, there's a lot of people out there who don't think those are good uses of funds. Ron Paul and his followers believe that there's no need for food regulation because there's no market for contaminated food. Others love to criticize "useless" NIH grants when they don't have the slightest understanding of the grants themselves or the science behind them.
I would say if we did as our ancestors did and cook it well ,we will survive through this.I do feel safer when they are on the job but look at it this way, they are just like us, when the government shuts down.
"FUBAR, it's German."
Ha! I used to race on a sailboat named FUBAR. Wicked fast boat, but the name always made me a little nervous.......
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