According to a recent publication from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 20 percent of food consumed in the U.S is imported including 97 percent of fish and shellfish, 50 percent of fresh fruit and 20 percent of fresh vegetables.
The report in the peer-reviewed Emerging Infectious Diseases documented 195 outbreak investigations associated with imported foods involving 10,700 illnesses, 1,117 hospitalizations and 19 fatalities during the period 1996 through 2014. Seafood was responsible for 55 percent of outbreaks and fresh produce with 33 percent.
The authors concluded that “efforts to improve the safety of the food supply can include strengthening and reporting by gathering better data on the origin of implicated food diets including whether imported and from what country”.
The CDC performs a vital service in identifying outbreaks of food-borne illness and coordinating the activities of state and regional diagnostic laboratories since many of the outbreaks occur in more than one state. The real issue is that food is produced under suboptimal conditions in some plants in foreign countries and is not subject to the same level of safety including HACCP surveillance.
The FDA is charged with maintaining the integrity of the food supply. The Agency admits to only inspecting one percent of imported food. This is an unconscionable situation and can only be corrected by establishing an independent and dedicated Food Safety Agency allowing the resources of the USDA the current FDA and other Federal agencies to be devoted to monitoring the wholesomeness of domestic and imported foods.