06/09/2010 - A field worker has unwashed hands. An animal squeezes through a small tear in a fence. Manure from a nearby hog farm trickles into an irrigation system.
Small mistakes like these are often difficult to identify as the sources of food-borne illnesses, a situation that has frustrated health authorities for years. The Food and Drug Administration and other agencies gather information about a contamination outbreak after people have already been sickened, and their investigations into what went wrong come well after the crucial evidence is gone.
Few rules are on the books that require preventive steps to make many foods — produce in particular — safer. The FDA now hopes to change that through sweeping rules designed to more closely track how growers, packers, shippers, distributors and retailers handle the produce Americans eat as it courses from the farm to consumer's tables.
Coupled with legislation that would give the FDA more enforcement power across the board, the changes could be some of the most significant improvements to the food safety system in decades.
"There needs to be a system that can both track that food and also give us some assurance that it is being properly processed and handled along that journey," said Erik Olson, director of food and consumer product safety at the Pew Health Group. "Any weak link in the chain can cause a problem."
Read the full article, Inside Washington: After Years of Outbreaks, FDA Steps Up Oversight of Produce Safety, on the Science News Web site.
Pew is no longer active in this line of work, but for more information visit the Produce Safety Project's Web site, or visit the Produce Safety Project on PewHealth.org.