It's going to take a while to rebuild the inspection structure for food safety: After decades of steady progress, the safety of the nation’s food s
April 10, 2009

It's going to take a while to rebuild the inspection structure for food safety:

After decades of steady progress, the safety of the nation’s food supply has not improved over the past three years, the government reported Thursday. And, it said, in the case of salmonella, the dangerous bacteria recently found in peanuts and pistachios, infections may be creeping upward.

The report, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, demonstrates that the nation’s food safety system, created when most foods were grown, prepared and consumed locally, needs a thorough overhaul to regulate an increasingly global food industry, top government health officials said Thursday.

“The system needs to be modernized to address the challenges and changes of the globalization of the food supply and rapid distribution chains,” said Dr. David Acheson, associate commissioner for foods at the Food and Drug Administration. “F.D.A. needs to do more inspections.” Dr. Stephen F. Sundlof, director of the agency’s food center, agreed. “As supply chains get longer and longer,” Dr. Sundlof said, “there’s more opportunity to introduce contaminants that have a public health effect.”

The report is likely to deepen tensions between the F.D.A. and the Department of Agriculture, which have long been rivals in overseeing food safety. An Agriculture Department campaign begun in 2006 to reduce salmonella contamination of meat and poultry has been successful, the report noted. But Dr. Robert Tauxe, deputy director of the C.D.C.’s division of foodborne diseases, suggested that whatever progress the department had made in improving overall food safety might have been lost by the F.D.A.

Could I interest you in your local sustainability movement, where food is either grown in your own backyard - or purchased directly from the farmer who grew it? It's probably a lot safer.

Urban sustainability is one of the quickest-growing grassroots movements in the nation. In my Philadelphia neighborhood, I can eat in dozens of local restaurants who only buy from local food producers and suppliers. (Buy Fresh, Buy Local is a popular local bumper sticker.) I buy produce from an urban farm that was constructed on a reclaimed brownfield site (the stuff is grown hydroponically, so no nasty toxins from the soil - and no GMO seed! I get my garden seedlings from the same place. Homegrown is best!) And let's not forget: the sooner you get the produce once it's removed from the soil, the more nutrients it has.

Plus, local food just tastes better. Try chopping up a juicy, fresh tomato and sauteing it in olive oil with salt, pepper, cinnamon and a pinch of sugar. Serve over pasta and you'll have something with which no jar sauce can compare. Yum!

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