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June 12, 2008

Increased Inspections Needed For Produce, Processing Plants
to Protect Consumers from Unsafe Food

Washington, DC—Consumers Union has called for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to increase inspections of food processing plants and for Congress to grant the agency broad mandatory recall authority in light of the recent outbreak of salmonella in tomatoes. The U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on Thursday on the Administration’s plan for food protection.
“The FDA has been under-staffed and under-funded for far too long. At the very least, the Agency’s budget for inspections must be increased so that it is visiting produce processing plants annually, not just once every five to ten years,” said Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives at Consumers Union.
Consumers Union has called for more funding for the FDA to perform yearly inspections, for the agency to develop operating plans for food processing facilities that insure safety, and for domestic and foreign food producers to be required to be certified as in compliance with these safety plans and with U.S. food safety standards. In addition, trace-back systems that include package identifiers allowing each product to be traced back to the field in which it originated are needed to further protect consumers from contaminated food. CU has also called for consolidation of the 15 agencies that oversee our food safety system.
“The FDA needs to be much more effective in enforcing food safety standards,” added Halloran. “We are in a global economy, with tomatoes from Mexico and fish from China for sale on a daily basis in our supermarkets,” said Halloran. “FDA needs to be upgraded and modernized to meet these challenges.”
Consumers Union notes the following with regard to the recalled tomatoes:

  • Cooking tomatoes thoroughly (heating to 155º F) will kill any salmonella bacteria and render the tomatoes safe to eat.

  • Although it is a good idea to wash tomatoes under running water, this will not guarantee safety since salmonella may be systemic and not just topical.

  • Grape tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, and tomatoes grown at home are not part of the recall and are considered safe to eat, according to FDA.

  • Tomatoes still on the vine are also considered safe by FDA because they are grown in an environmentally controlled greenhouse.

  • In addition, the FDA says that consumers can eat tomatoes from certain states and countries that have not been linked to the outbreak, see http://www.fda.gov/oc/opacom/hottopics/tomatoes.html.
    For the latest information on the tomato situation and other safety issues, see
    http://blogs.consumerreports.org/safety/.

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    Contact:
    Jennifer Fuson
    (202) 462-6262