A state consumer group has stepped up with recommendations it says would provide a serious boost to our food safety system. The Seattle-based Washington Public Interest Research Group (Wash PIRG) says food safety has improved in the United States, but it cannot be left to rest on its laurels.

Here’s a quick rundown on the changes Wash PIRG is calling for:

  • 1. Food production and testing
    • Test water used for irrigation or watering of produce for hazardous pathogens.
    • Set health-based bacterial load levels for agriculture watering to prevent contamination.
  • 2. Inspection and monitoring
    • Require plants to identify the most common pathogens associated with meat and poultry products as hazards likely to occur and address them in their safety plans.
    • Establish clear enforcement consequences for recurring violations of food safety protections or plans.
    • Update food safety standards at facilities every three years.
    • Declare antibiotic-resistant strains of salmonella as an adulterant in meat and poultry.
  • 3. Traceability
    • Improve traceability throughout the food supply chain through network-based tracking technologies.
    • Retailers notify consumers about recalled products they may have in their homes.
  • 4. Recall effectiveness
    • Require disclosure of retailers selling products for all Class I and Class II recalls, establish a timeline for the release of that information, and include packaged goods.
    • Penalize companies who continue to sell products after a recall.
    • Develop programs for retailers to directly notify customers about food recalls.

Wash PIRG’s report said: “Our findings make it clear that our food safety defenses need an across-the-board upgrade. Gaps in public health protections, enforcement, and inspection make it too likely that dangers will reach Americans’ plates with potentially disastrous consequences. And, when these dangers are identified through analysis of disease vectors and health impacts, our recall system often allows hazards to continue to impact people’s health.”

Wash PIRG also called the current food safety system “convoluted” in the way responsibilities are divided between USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). “This has caused inconsistent oversight, ineffective coordination, and inefficient use of resources,” it said.

“Americans rely on a vast network of farms, slaughterhouses, and manufacturers to provide safe food every day. In 2019 alone, high-profile recalls and foodborne illness outbreaks linked to flour, chicken strips, and romaine lettuce reveal that more action is necessary to protect public health” the report states.

Wash PIRG is an independent, state-based, citizen-funded organization and is a member of PIRG, the federation of state Public Interest Research Groups. State PIRGs have existed since 1970 and currently employ close to 400 organizers, policy analysts, scientists, and attorneys with a federal lobby office in Washington D.C.

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