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Food poisoning results from eating food or drinking water that is contaminated with certain bacteria, viruses, toxins or parasites. A majority of food poisoning cases are caused by common bacteria Staphylococcus coli or Escherichia coli. Examples of food poisoning types include; cholera, Salmonella, fish poisoning, E. coli enteritis and Listeria among others. Food poisoning is a serious problem that affects millions of people worldwide and can sometimes be life threatening. People who are affected by food-borne organisms may not show any symptoms at all or may suffer from symptoms ranging from mild uneasiness in the stomach to bloody diarrhea and severe dehydration. Based on the type of food poisoning one has, food poisoning can lead to serious illness or even death. General symptoms of food poisoning include nausea & vomiting, headache, bloody diarrhea, weakness, fever and abdominal cramps.
According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of food poisoning cases in the United States annually is estimated to be 76 million. Out of this number, around 300, 000 people get hospitalized, while 5,000 people die from the contamination. With the ever rising number of food recalls and outbreaks taking place yearly, it is expected that this statistics will significantly increase. The fact that not all cases of illnesses of food poisoning are reported, it means that the actual statistics are much higher than the ones above. Food poisoning affects people of all races, ages, status or gender (Wallace 275). However, there are people who are at a higher risk of infection, and they include the elderly, children, pregnant women, those with weak immune systems as well as people with severe medical conditions such as diabetes or kidney disease etc. This paper focuses on a recent food poisoning outbreak, current food safety laws protecting harmed victims as well as how food safety laws could change in the future.
A recent food poisoning outbreak
According to an article dabbed, Deaths from Cantaloupe Listeria Rise, which appeared on the New York Times journal on 27th September, 2011, at least 13 people from 8 states in the US have perished after consuming cantaloupe that is contaminated with Listeria (Neuman n. pag.). This according to public health officials has been the deadliest food poisoning outbreak in the United States of America in over a decade. A majority of the victims were elderly people, particularly because of their susceptibility to the aggressive pathogen. The cantaloupes, which are called Rocky Ford Cantaloupes are grown by Jensen Farms, which is a company in Colorado, and are sold throughout the country.
According to the report by the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP), at least seventy two people have been sick in 18 US states since the Listeria outbreak started in late July. The urgency has reported that 4 people have died in Mexico city, two people in Colorado, two in Texas and a single person in each of the following regions; Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Maryland and Nebraska. Two of the dead victims were in their 90s while, a majority of them were more than 60 years. It is expected that the death toll could rise further as health officials continue to wait for death results expected to have resulted from the outbreak.
Listeria is a common but a very dangerous bacterium that results in severe infection especially among people with compromised immune systems such children and the elderly. There have also been reports of the pathogen causing miscarriages among pregnant women. According to CDCP, the pregnant women are 20 times more likely to be severely infected with the bacterium compared to other healthy adults. So far, no information has been provided by the federal officials on the miscarriages or stillbirths that are related to the recent outbreak (Neuman n. pag.).
According to John Sofos, who is a professor of food safety at the Colorado State University, a majority of people infected with Listeria usually show only mild symptoms for instance, diarrhea. However in other cases involving vulnerable categories, the bacteria can forcefully exit the gastrointestinal tract to attack the spinal cord or the muscle tissue further worsening the severe illnesses. In such cases, diseases such as meningitis have been reported. Because of this reason, death rates resulting from Listeria infection are often higher compared to other forms of bacteria affecting food.
According to William Miller, who is a Seattle lawyer representing food- borne illness victims, the recent outbreak might record even higher death rates since cantaloupe, is favorite food eaten by a majority of older people. With the increasing death toll, the Rocky Food cantaloupe has exceeded the deaths in 2008, which were associated with consuming peanuts and peanuts butter that are tainted with Salmonella bacteria, sold by the Peanut Corporation of America, a company in Georgia. The result of that outbreak was; the death of nine people and over 700 sick people (Neuman n. pag.).
According to Neuman (n. pag.), Listeria is commonly found in the soil, manure, decaying plant matter or water. Listeria monocytogenes, which is a strain of the organism, was found to cause food- borne illness for the first time in the early 1980s. Since then, only a few food poisoning outbreaks associated with Listeria have been reported. Most of Listeria outbreaks come from consuming tainted dairy or meat products. Since it can take over 2 months for a person that is infected with the bacteria to fall sick, this makes the process of identifying the specific food that carried the microorganism to be difficult. In addition, Listeria bacteria can grow well even under very low temperatures, meaning that it cannot be eliminated from refrigerated areas, where food is stored or processed.
According to the Food and Drug Administration, they found the Listeria bacteria strain on the melons and the equipments that were used in the packing house in Colorado farm, evidence that the contamination actually occurred. It is the recommendation of the FDA, that consumers should wash all their raw produce from the farms or markets, including cantaloupes, under running water. Hard produces for instance, melons should be scrubbed by use of a produce brush. After, washing, the produce should be dried using a clean cloth or a paper towel that is unused.
Current food safety laws protecting victims of Food Poisoning
According to an article, House Approves New Food-Safety Laws, which appeared on the New York Times Journal on July 30th, 2009, the new food safety laws that were passed by the House of Representatives, requires that more regular inspections of processing plants should be carried out. The law also mandates the US government to order the recall of all tainted foods. The administration of President Obama has thrown its support behind an all-inclusive food safety revamping. The legislation is aimed at remedying the problems that have been experienced in the food safety system for along time (Neuman n. pag.).
The new law requires the Food and Drug Administration to carry out inspections in all food processing plants that are deemed to be of high risk, every six to twelve months. These plants include those that have had problems associated with food safety in the past as well as those that deal with products that are perishable for example, sea foods.
According to Neuman (n. pag.), food processing plants that are deemed low risk will be inspected at least ones in every three years. In addition, warehouses that contain packaged foods should be inspected at least once every five years. Those who supported the legislation raised complaints that certain facilities have taken ten years or even more before being inspected by FDA.
In addition, the law mandates FDA to order for the recall of tainted foods. Prior to the law, only companies had the power to recall their tainted food products. The legislation also requires that FDA inspection on imported foods be heightened; it also requires processing plants to avail their records to investigators and inspectors as well as for food processing plants to develop comprehensive and elaborate safety plans that will help to eradicate problems associated with food poisoning before they actually occur.
In addition, the food safety law directs the Food and Drug Administration to develop a system that will enable the tracing of food ingredients and products, as a quick way of reaching the source of the future outbreaks of illnesses resulting from food poisoning (Neuman n. pag.). Overall, the legislation raises the bar for the whole food industry and is aimed at reducing future deaths and illnesses as a result of food contamination.
How food safety laws could change in the future.
The following are the expected changes in the food safety laws; companies that will require re-inspection or a recall may be required to pay a fee designated by FDA. The FDA will also have the power to set countrywide standards for the production and harvesting of fresh produce. The FDA will be expected to publish updated guidelines for particular fruits, vegetables as well as selected high risk produce, which are considered as raw agricultural products. In addition, in the future, FDA in conjunction with the department of Homeland Security and Department of Agriculture are expected to issue regulations that will prevent food companies from deliberately adding prohibited food additives, chemicals and other materials in the food products they sell.
According to Wallace (275), after every two years, FDA will be required to make identifications of the most important food threats i.e. diseases as well as other contaminants causing food borne illnesses, and then disperse fresh outlines and regulations (science- based) to companies dealing with food production. Food and Drug Administration will also have the power to suspend facilities that are charged with food production on grounds of suspected potential health risk. There is also a new registration process that is expected to happen every two years, and food production companies are required to either meet the set registration requirements or risk being suspended by the FDA.
Food production companies will also be required to inform the FDA through writing, about all the hazardous practices going on in their facilities and what they are doing to execute preventive measures to counter the practices. In addition, the FDA will require certification or other assurance forms on imported food products that are considered high risk. Failure to present the required certification will lead to the FDA barring those imported food products from being brought into the country.
The Food and Drug Administration will also have the power to conduct an evaluation on the food safety practices of those countries that bring in their food products to the United States. It is expected that the Secretary of Health and Human Services will liaise with foreign governments to help in the streamlining of the food facilities inspection in foreign countries. Last but not least, it is also expected that FDA inspection of food facilities abroad will double in number every year, for the subsequent five years.