Good Start on Food Safety

Article excerpt

Byline: The Register-Guard

The Obama administration announced new regulations last week to limit salmonella and E.coli contamination at food processing plants and to better track the origins of food illnesses. The changes are promising, but they are no substitute for the comprehensive reform needed to repair the nation's dysfunctional food-safety system in ways that would allow Americans to open a container of cookie dough or a bag of peanut butter crackers without hyperventilating.

After a salmonella outbreak traced to peanut products sickened more than 700 people in 46 states earlier this year, President Obama appointed a food-safety working group led by the secretaries of Agriculture and Health and Human Services.

Last Tuesday, the panel released a list of sensible regulations aimed at preventing contamination before it occurs. They include rules that will require egg producers with more than 3,000 hens to buy chicks from suppliers that test for salmonella bacteria, and requirements that poultry farms refrigerate eggs within 36 hours after they are laid and test regularly for rodents and pests.

The new measures will cost the egg industry an estimated $81 million a year, an unwelcome burden. But the payoff should be significant. The FDA predicts the changes will reduce illnesses caused by contaminated eggs by 60 percent, yielding $1.4 billion in public health benefits.

The administration is planning other food-safety measures: By the end of this month, the U.S. Food and Drug and Administration is expected to release new guidelines to prevent E.coli contamination of leafy greens, tomatoes and melons, and to develop a system that traces foods from farm to table. …