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US One of Top Five Food Safety Offenders

A new global monitoring tool identifies the United States as one of the top five worst food safety offenders, along with China, Turkey, Iran, and Spain. The findings are based on food contamination data collected between 2003 and 2008.

The food safety monitoring system was unveiled last moth at a European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting. The developers say it will help countries identify food safety transgressors and process a high volume of recall data.

“With increased international trade, the right of the citizen to an adequate diet emphasizes the importance of coherent government responses to food safety and security,” the developers say on the site.

Professor Naughton, one of the system’s developers, told Medical News that the new program is unrivaled in its ability to analyze food safety data.

“No other system can reflect the complexity of this information in a snapshot form,” he said. “It can be particularly helpful to developing countries new to food testing because information is easy to access and available in minutes.”  The network of data is available online.

Naughton believes the model could have even broader applications. “We’d like to develop the tool to create an international alert system that will provide real time information about emerging patterns and problems.”

For more details about the analytical tool, including an outline of methodology see: Nepusz T, Petróczi A, Naughton DP: Network analytical tool for monitoring global food safety highlights China. PLoS ONE 4(8):e6680, 2009. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0006680

© Food Safety News
  • hhamil

    Helena,
    I contend that your characterization of the US “as one of top five worst safety offenders” is a misleading characterization not supported by the journal article itself. Rather, you accepted a misleading characterization made by “Medical News Today” and slightly strengthened it.
    For me, this is a good example of the fun that academics can have which can have unfortunate repercussions outside academia. The “Medical News Today” characterization was repeated slightly stronger by you and, in turn, it was made stronger again in Kristen Ridley’s blog “US ranks in top 5 in worst food safety culprits.
    As one of the authors is a statistician, I would have been astonished if he had said or written anything like that because it is only true in a narrow sense when measured by total incidents—a very misleading measure.
    For example, as the US is also the largest exporter of food, one of the top 3 total food producers and has one of the most sophisticated and transparent reporting systems for recalls, this is terribly misleading and unsurprising.
    In the published article, the authors say, “some 5% of EU foodstuffs are recalled owing to contamination at source.” That is a much better measure of who is a “top offender.” The US isn’t anywhere near 5%.
    To further show how misleading this is, consult Table 1–The Cumulative Number of Food Alerts, etc. at http://www.plosone.org/article/slideshow.action?uri=info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0006680&imageURI=info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0006680.t001. There you will find that the US had 657 alerts; Spain, 610; Germany, 577; France, 480 and Italy, 475. That’s 657 for the US (at 309M population) and 2142 for them (253M population). The results are similar on the transgressor index.
    Simply put, your reprinting of the characterization has, apparently, misled another reporting on food safety and, my guess is, most of your readers.
    Helena, you have inadvertently perpetuated the same type of mistake as the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) made in “The 10 Riskiest Foods Regulated by the US FDA.” You confused simple counts of events with a measurement of risk. Simple counts don’t show risk. Risk requires the count to be divided by the number of chances for a screw up. CSPI did it when CONSCIOUSLY masquerading advocacy as science for a political reason–quick passage of S 510 without full consideration.
    As you have accidentally misled your readers, I urge you to reword your article and note the change.
    “Food Safety News” has a good record of correcting this type of confusion. I hope it will choose to do so again.

  • Harry Hamil

    Helena,
    I contend that your characterization of the US “as one of top five worst safety offenders” is a misleading characterization not supported by the journal article itself. Rather, you accepted a misleading characterization made by “Medical News Today” and slightly strengthened it.
    For me, this is a good example of the fun that academics can have which can have unfortunate repercussions outside academia. The “Medical News Today” characterization was repeated slightly stronger by you and, in turn, it was made stronger again in Kristen Ridley’s blog “US ranks in top 5 in worst food safety culprits.
    As one of the authors is a statistician, I would have been astonished if he had said or written anything like that because it is only true in a narrow sense when measured by total incidents—a very misleading measure.
    For example, as the US is also the largest exporter of food, one of the top 3 total food producers and has one of the most sophisticated and transparent reporting systems for recalls, this is terribly misleading and unsurprising.
    In the published article, the authors say, “some 5% of EU foodstuffs are recalled owing to contamination at source.” That is a much better measure of who is a “top offender.” The US isn’t anywhere near 5%.
    To further show how misleading this is, consult Table 1–The Cumulative Number of Food Alerts, etc. at http://www.plosone.org/article/slideshow.action?uri=info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0006680&imageURI=info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0006680.t001. There you will find that the US had 657 alerts; Spain, 610; Germany, 577; France, 480 and Italy, 475. That’s 657 for the US (at 309M population) and 2142 for them (253M population). The results are similar on the transgressor index.
    Simply put, your reprinting of the characterization has, apparently, misled another reporting on food safety and, my guess is, most of your readers.
    Helena, you have inadvertently perpetuated the same type of mistake as the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) made in “The 10 Riskiest Foods Regulated by the US FDA.” You confused simple counts of events with a measurement of risk. Simple counts don’t show risk. Risk requires the count to be divided by the number of chances for a screw up. CSPI did it when CONSCIOUSLY masquerading advocacy as science for a political reason–quick passage of S 510 without full consideration.
    As you have accidentally misled your readers, I urge you to reword your article and note the change.
    “Food Safety News” has a good record of correcting this type of confusion. I hope it will choose to do so again.