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Published: Thursday, 1/6/2011

Safe to eat

At first glance, the newest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the number of Americans affected annually by food poisoning suggest the industry is doing better than it was a decade ago.

According to CDC data, one in six Americans - as many as 48 million people, 3,000 of whom die - is affected every year by contaminated food. In 1999, a report showed that one in four Americans suffered food poisoning, and there were 5,000 deaths.

Scientists cannot compare these outcomes directly, though, because different methods were used to calculate data in the two reports. So there's some hesitation about interpreting the newer figures to identify a reduction in food-borne illnesses.

What's certain, however, is that government must do a better job of getting and keeping records of food-borne illnesses and their causes.

The law President Obama signed this week to overhaul the nation's food-safety system is designed to do that.

But that will happen only if regulators get the authority and money they need to carry out that intent.

That remains the responsibility of Congress, whatever its current enthusiasm for budget-slashing.

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