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Agencies Must Do More to Prevent Foodborne Disease

Salmonella outbreak demonstrates need for change; irradiation should be considered

THURSDAY, Feb. 12 (HealthDay News) -- U.S. agencies responsible for food safety must take steps to prevent outbreaks of foodborne illness such as the current Salmonella outbreak linked to peanut butter products, according to a perspective published online Feb. 11 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Dennis G. Maki, M.D., of the University of Wisconsin in Madison, writes that the ongoing Salmonella outbreak has sickened about 600 people in 44 states and Canada. This is not an uncommon incident, Maki writes. For example, another Salmonella outbreak -- linked to peppers -- in 2008 sickened over 1,400 people, and in 2006-2007 peanut butter contaminated by Salmonella sickened tens of thousands of people. Maki notes that for every case identified, there are approximately 38 undetected cases.

He writes that to enhance the safety of industrially produced food, the U.S. Department of Agriculture should scientifically validate and more consistently apply its Pathogen Reduction, Hazard Analysis, and Critical Control Point program. In addition, agencies need to put more resources toward programs to monitor the production and processing of foods. Maki also suggests requiring bar codes for commercial foods; taking different approaches to feeding poultry, cattle and swine; improving hygienic food-preparation practices; and expanding the use of irradiation.

"The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that irradiation of high-risk foods could prevent up to a million cases of bacterial foodborne disease each year in North America. I believe it is time to launch a major effort to gain public acceptance of irradiation of high-risk foods," Maki concludes.

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