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Washington, D.C. - Statement of Nasima Hossain, U.S. PIRG Public Health Advocate, on food safety inspections in meats and fresh produce.
“An article today in the Washington Post talks about how there are inspectors at every one of the nation’s slaughterhouses, eyeballing the hanging carcasses of cows and chickens as they shuttle past on elevated rails, looking for bruises, tumors and signs of contamination. This is essentially the way the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) food safety inspectors have handled food safety in meats for decades. But is this really the most effective way to protect the public from hazards in meats when the majority of foodborne illnesses from meats are due to microbial contaminants and deadly pathogens such as listeria and E.Coli, which cannot be viewed by the naked human eye?
“Last year the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that fruits and nuts were linked to the most foodborne illnesses, followed by vegetables that grow on vines and stalks - not meats. Unfortunately, the one program in the nation that regularly tests fruits and vegetables for deadly pathogens is about to be cut. The Agriculture Department’s tiny $5 million Microbiological Data Program screens high-risk fresh produce throughout the year for bacteria including salmonella, E. coli and listeria. Cutting this program will leave public health officials without a crucial tool used to investigate deadly foodborne illnesses in fresh produce.
It’s the microbe in our meats and fresh produce that you can’t see, taste or smell that is killing people. And in view of the accelerated increase in foodborne illness linked to fresh produce, it is a serious mistake for the USDA to eliminate the nation’s only program that regularly tests fruits and vegetables for deadly pathogens. Cutting this program will leave the public increasingly in danger.”
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