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Legislative proposals to address the food safety

17 October 2009 1,605 views No Comment

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is introducing new legislation that is designed to protect citizens from food borne illnesses.

She wants to ensure there are safe, healthy foods available for everyone.

In a telephone conference, the senator announced a comprehensive plan to overhaul the nation’s food safety laws by improving inspection, recall response and public education.

The proactive cornerstone of the senator’s new legislation is to mandate E. coli inspections of ground beef.

“While the U.S. Department of Agriculture has made some progress improving food safety regulations, the nation’s food safety laws have not been significantly overhauled in more than a century,” Sen. Gillibrand said, quoting data from the Congressional Research Service.

In 2009, she said, there is food that is still going straight to our kitchens, school cafeterias and restaurants without being properly tested to ensure safety.

“We need to do a better job of catching contaminated food before it ever comes close to a kitchen table.

“My plan addresses the gaps in the inspection process and improves recalls and public education, so parents have access to the information that will keep their families safe,” the senator said.

Across New York, approximately 5 million people are afflicted with food-borne illnesses each year.

In Western New York, an estimated 360,000 individuals are afflicted with these illnesses each year.

From meat and poultry to peanut butter, fruits and vegetables, almost every type of food we eat each day has the potential for contamination because of outdated, insufficient safeguards and testing processes, the senator said.

She wants to strengthen inspections and surveillance, particularly that of ground beef.

Currently, she said, there is no federal requirement for meat grinders to test their ingredients for E. coli.

To reduce the risk of E. coli ending up in the hamburgers and other foods we eat, the senator is authoring the E. Coli Eradication Act which would require all plants that process ground meat to test their products regularly before it is ground and again before it is combined with other products and packaged.

The senator is also co-sponsoring the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act that would make comprehensive improvements to the safety of fruits and vegetables to help prevent.outbreaks before they start.

She also wants to improve the safety of imported foods.

According to the senator, 15 percent of America’s overall food supply is imported from overseas, including 60 percent of fruits and vegetables and 80 percent of seafood.

To ensure the safety of this imported food, Sen. Gillibrand is calling for the Department of Homeland Security to prioritize the hiring of inspectors to protect consumers.

Additionally, the senator will work to require importers to verify the safety of foreign suppliers and imported food by allowing the FDA to require certification for high risk foods.

This would include the right to deny entry to a food that lacks certification or that which is from a foreign facility that has refused U.S. inspections.

In addition, the senator will work with her colleagues to give the FDA the authority to order a mandatory recall of a food product when a company fails to voluntarily recall the product at the FDA’s request.

Right now, she said, recalls are only voluntary.

According to the Center for Disease Control, every year an estimated 87 million Americans are sickened by contaminated food, 371,000 are hospitalized and 5,700 die from food related disease.

County Statistics for Western New York: In Western New York, an estimate of nearly 360,000 are afflicted with a food-borne illness each year.

By JOAN JOSEPHSON, OBSERVER Staff Writer

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