Thursday, December 16, 2010

Foodborne illnesses sicken 48 million annually

Posted By on Thu, Dec 16, 2010 at 9:53 AM

The thing about trying to quantify foodborne illnesses is that a lot of people don't report minor illnesses, so I don't know how much we can trust the latest tally. Trying to slap numbers on our country's food contamination problem is so complex and confusing that even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently dropped their estimates. So, exactly how many people get sick after consuming contaminated food each year? Umm ... a lot, too many.

Read more from Reuters: Tainted food sickens 48 mln each year: CDC

What we know for sure is that, over the past couple centuries, as our species has gotten away from raising our own food, we've come to rely on food manufacturers to produce quality, affordable food. And they've done that; there are very few people in our country who are completely without food of some kind.

But, as Michael Pollan, the author of Omnivore's Dilemma, In Defense of Food and Food Rules, points out, much of what we eat these days is so heavily processed it's more aptly described as food-like substances than anything remotely healthy.

Meanwhile, we place a great deal of trust in food manufacturers to accurately describe their ingredients and manufacturing process, and to take appropriate measures to prevent contamination. We also trust them, perhaps unwisely, to put the public's health above their profits.

Enter the U.S. Congress. For the first time in decades, Congress is on the verge of passing federal legislation that will allow the government to recall tainted food and inspect processing plants more often, though meat products aren't included in the bill.

Is this an ideal situation? No. In an ideal world we'd all know exactly where our food comes from, what's in it, who produced it, how it was transported and when it was last inspected. In an ideal world, people's health wouldn't be sold for profit. In America, "ideal" only lives in Hollywood. For the rest of us, we've got to rely on watchdogs to protect us ... in this case, for better or worse, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Here's Pollan on Real Time with Bill Maher discussing his beef with beef, our food's food, food marketing, Twinkies and his involvement in the documentary Food, Inc.:

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