In an effort to ramp up the pressure on the Senate to move on the pending food safety bill, food safety advocates and foodborne illness victims yesterday unveiled a report outlining the 85 recalls that have occurred since the House passed its version of the legislation in July 2009.

“Recalls and outbreaks are the most public consequence of our ‘horse and buggy’ food safety system,” said Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which released the report with the Consumer Federation of America, U.S. Public Interest Research Group, and Safe Tables Our Priority (S.T.O.P) at the National Press Club.  

“Consumers are sometimes sickened and everyone up and down the chain has to check for, remove, and destroy the contaminated products,” said DeWaal. “Only Congress can fix the underlying problems by passing legislation that has been languishing in the Senate for over a year.”

According to the report, of the 85 product recalls under FDA jurisdiction, “36 of those recalls were due to Salmonella contamination of lettuce, alfalfa sprouts, green onions, and ground pepper.  Hydrolyzed vegetable protein contaminated with Salmonella spurred the recall of a wide variety of soup and dip mixes, dressings, and seasonings.  32 recalls, mostly from contaminated cheeses, were due to dangerous Listeria bacteria.  E. coli bacteria on shredded romaine lettuce sickened at least 26 people in 23 states and the District of Columbia.”

ryleepresser.jpgThirteen-year-old Rylee Gustafson of Henderson, NV, who spent two weeks on life support after eating E. coli-contaminated spinach, spoke at yesterday’s even, calling on the Senate to pass the food safety legislation.

“I want to know that the food on my plate is safe,” said Gustafson. “I hope that the Senate can finish work on the food safety bill, and that other kids won’t have to suffer from a foodborne illness like I did.”

“Unfortunately, the FDA is often in reactive mode, chasing down the source of an outbreak long after much of the food in question has been sold,” said Elizabeth Hitchcock, a public health advocate for U.S. PIRG, which is utilizing its nationwide grassroots network to push for a vote on the bill.  “We need this food safety reform legislation so that the FDA can focus on preventing contamination in the first place–before the food ends up in Americans’ cupboards and refrigerators.