Well, here’s one more food you should avoid: pistachios. Today, a California company voluntarily recalled all pistachios shipped since Sept. 1, 2008 because they are thought to be contaminated with salmonella. This incident marks the second food scare of 2009 – after a year of multiple outbreaks of foodborne illness.

The past couple of years have been rife with outbreaks of foodborne illness – salmonella in peanuts, salmonella in jalapenos, E. coli in spinach – which should have led the FDA to reconsider it’s food safety procedures by now. Or, so you would think. Alas, the FDA and the rest of the big guys responsible for keeping our food supply safe and sanitary can’t seem to get their act together. A recent article in the NYT indicated that many food companies cannot identify who or where their supplies are coming from – just one reason that the Peanut Corporation of America is still recalling products nearly 2 months after they first discovered an outbreak of salmonella. So, what’s Obama to do about food safety?

It’s no wonder that food safety is hard to keep track of – the responsibility for food safety is split between the USDA, CDC, and FDA. Several interest groups have argued that the government should create an agency whose sole responsibility will be food safety, complete with a “Food Safety Czar.”

While the creation of a Food Safety agency hasn’t happened yet, it seems like we’re moving in the right direction. Just this month, President Obama created the Food and Food Safety Working Group, which includes Tom Vilsack and Kathleen Sebelius, to advise him on food safety issues and help enact the necessary changes in legislation to ensure a safe food supply. Vilsack, the new Secretary of Agriculture, has included more funding for food safety improvements in the 2010 USDA budget, but it remains unclear what exactly said improvements will include.

As food contamination is a serious public health issue, improvements in food safety need to happen sooner rather than later.

Read more:
“Investigators Find Sources of Many Foods Untraceable” [NYT 3/25/09]
“Groups urge FDA changes to boost U.S. Food Safety” [Reuters UK]
“Food Borne Illness Prevention Program Needs Overhaul” [QSR]