AT FIRST glance, the newest results from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing the number of people affected annually by food poisoning suggests the industry is doing better than it was a decade ago. It is not, and that underscores the need to keep moving on improving the nation's food supply.
According to new CDC data, one in six Americans - or up to 48 million people, 3,000 of whom die - are affected every year by contaminated food. In 1999, a report showed that one in four Americans suffered food poisoning; there were 5,000 deaths.
Numbers from the two studies make it appear as if fewer people become ill from contaminated food. You don't have to be a scientist though, to suspect that isn't the case - especially when there have been reports of people sickened from eating eggs, tomatoes, spinach, and peanut butter.
Scientists cannot compare the two outcomes because different methods were used to calculate data in the two reports. Better methods of tracking food-borne illnesses and improved laboratory techniques were employed in the recent study. Consequently, the newer figures cannot be interpreted to mean there is a reduction in food-borne illnesses. So, there is little sure way to know whether the number of those who suffer food poisoning is the same, better, or worse than it was more than a decade ago.
What's certain, however, is that government must do a better job to obtain and keep records of information about the number of food-borne illnesses and their causes.
Fortunately, on Capitol Hill, legislation is pending to overhaul the food system. However, the food safety legislation has been sidelined by a constitutional dispute between both houses of Congress, even though it has passed the House and the Senate.
It's vital that the new Congress makes moving forward on that issue a priority. Americans don't want federal politicians dickering with legislation designed to improve our food supply. Forget the politics and do what is necessary to reduce the number of people who become ill and die from food-borne illnesses. Americans' lives depend on swift action in Congress.