According to federal data, one in six Americans (or 48 million people) is sickened and 3,000 die from foodborne diseases each year. The unfortunate fact is these figures are likely to be far higher, as most food illnesses go unreported. The five pathogens causing the majority of foodborne illnesses that lead to hospitalizations are salmonella, norovirus, Campylobacter, toxoplasma gondii, and E. coli 0157.
Where is this happening? You don't have to look far. Month after month brings more news of food contamination or a foodborne illness outbreak. What's going on? Our industrialized food system has major holes in its oversight and health and safety processes, and is the root cause of many of these outbreaks.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for the regulation and safety standards of approximately 80 percent of the food supply in the U.S., as well as the safety of pet foods. The remaining 20 percent, primarily meat, poultry and some egg products, is regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).
Typically, recalls are voluntary and initiated by manufacturers and distributors, but FDA does have the authority (thanks to the new Food Safety Modernization Act) to shut down operations at food production facilities if it deems that there is a significant threat to public health.
Recalls are classified according to their potential seriousness. Both FDA and FSIS classify recalls according to this system :
Class I – A Class I recall involves a health hazard situation in which there is a reasonable probability that eating the food will cause health problems or death.
Class II – A Class II recall involves a potential health hazard situation in which there is a remote probability of adverse health consequences from eating the food.
Class III – A Class III recall involves a situation in which eating the food will not cause adverse health consequences.
How do you find out about food recalls?
FoodSafety.Gov is a great resource for food recalls and food safety alerts. You can also sign up to receive their food recall alerts by email.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for food safety and pet food safety, and updates their food recall page every day. You can also get food recall information from @FDArecalls on Twitter.
The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service is responsible for the safety of most meat, poultry and egg products in the U.S., and updates their food recall page daily. or follow @USDAFoodSafety on Twitter.
How do you report a foodborne illness?
If you believe you or someone you know became ill from eating a certain food, contact your local (county or city) health department. You can find your health department here: http://www.foodsafety.gov/about/state/index.html
The FSIS has instructions on how to report a problem with a food product here.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has instructions for how to report a foodborne illness here.
You can also report food poisoning instances to FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) here.
What do you do if you have purchased a recalled product?
Do not eat it. Take it back to the store where you purchased it for a refund, or simply discard it.