Just across the river from the epicenter of a mysterious E. coli outbreak, Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) warned that cuts to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) budget would be a step backward for food safety. 

FDA is currently seeking a budget to fund its stepped up role under the Food Safety Modernization Act, which became law last January.

In a speech before culinary students at Southwestern Illionis College in Granite City, Illinois on Friday, Sen. Durbin specifically blasted the spending cuts approved by the House of Representatives over the summer that would cut FDA’s budget by more than 10 percent.

“If these funding cuts are sustained, there will be terrible consequences for our nation’s food safety system and efforts to prevent millions of food-borne illnesses and thousands of deaths each year will be set back,” said Durbin, a long-time advocate for a revamped food safety system. “The House bill takes us back to where we were before this landmark legislation was passed by cutting the funding FDA needs to meet the requirements of the new law.”

“We need to improve our nation’s food safety system – -not dismantle it,” he added.

House and Senate staff worked over the weekend to reconcile the House and Senate agriculture appropriations bills. The Senate version would give FDA a $50 million increase  over last year. 

Durbin pointed to the ongoing outbreak in nearby St. Louis as an example of food safety challenges. “The outbreak in the St. Louis region is not an isolated incident–there have recently been similar outbreaks in North Carolina, Ohio, Michigan and New York.”

Over the weekend, Missouri health officials said more illnesses had been linked to the E. coli outbreak, bringing the total count to 28. 

Of the confirmed cases in the region, two live in Illinois, according to Durbin’s office. Local public health authorities said last week that at least 19 of the confirmed cases required hospitalization, including one case of hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS).

The source of the outbreak remains a mystery. Missouri health officials have so far tested 55 food samples and have not found any positive matches. 

Twice over the weekend, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) upped its count of confirmed cases, increasing the tally by two for the current total of 28.   A Boone County resident was added to the count on Saturday because of recent travel to the St. Louis area.  

On Sunday, DHSS added the second case based on lab results from specimens submitted to the State Public Health Laboratory last week.  The case also has the same E. coli fingerprint as observed in the outbreak.

With all those negative tests on food samples, the source of the St. Louis E. coli outbreak remains a mystery.