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Laugh if you want, but the food supply is safer than ever

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By Jenni Spinner+

26-Jun-2014
Last updated the 26-Jun-2014 at 17:45 GMT

FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg, and the entire US food safety industry, have been hit by satirical website The Onion.
FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg, and the entire US food safety industry, have been hit by satirical website The Onion.

The satirical specialists at The Onion might make food recall jokes at the expense of the FDA, but the safety of the US food supply is seriously better than ever.

There’s hardly a corner of the US government that hasn’t been hit by the Onion’s satirical barbs. This week, the latest target is the US Food and Drug Administration, hit with the website’s lampoon harpoon in a sendup of the amount of food recalls in the news.

Fun with food safety

“FDA Recalls Food,” the headline reads. The brief but biting article goes on to advise citizens literally not to eat anything (no grains, meats, produce, nuts, dairy products, processed foodstuffs, sweets, spices, or other edibles) due to safety concerns.

We are asking all Americans to return any edible products they own to the store where these items were purchased or to discard such items immediately,” the spoof piece quotes FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg as saying. “If you are eating something right now, please discontinue doing so.”

No laughing matter

People working  in the food industry—especially those with ‘safety’ in their job titles—probably will have a good laugh at the headline. While foodborne illness is never funny (though some found the irony of the recent outbreak at the Food Safety Summit worth a smirk), progress in improving the safety of the US food supply is worth cheering.

Since 1996, reported incidents of Listeria-caused illnesses are down an impressive 42%. In that same time period, cases of E. coli and Campylobacter are down 30% and 22%, respectively.

Even one illness or fatality tied to foodborne pathogens is unacceptable. The good news is, the industry and government are working to bring that number down to zero.

Safety progress

As Rutgers University food scientist Donald Schaffner pointed out during the recent IFT 2014 event, the federal government (a frequent target of ridicule and criticism) actually has proven itself to be on top of things in several ways.

Over the last 25 years, a lot of the research and innovation in food safety has been driven by the changes in regulation,” he said.

Schaffner also applauded the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for creating tools like PulseNet and FoodNet, to increase and share knowledge of outbreak events, and prevent the next event from happening—and that’s something to smile about.

If you're in the mood for a giggle, you can read the full Onion article here .

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