Microbes, Not Chemicals,
Are the Major Source of Foodborne Illness
New York, June, 1999 New York, NY, June 1999¬When it comes to
fighting the war against foodborne illness,
it seems that many Americans have identified
the wrong enemy. Contrary to popular belief,
the major causes of food-related illness
and death are not the much maligned herbicides,
pesticides and other synthetic chemicals.
"Actually," says University of
California, Davis, professor Dean O. Cliver,
Ph.D., author of the newly updated report
Eating Safely: Avoiding Foodborne Illness, "the primary cause of foodborne illness
is naturally occurring pathogens¬disease-producing
organisms and their products."
Outbreaks of microbe-associated foodborne
illness that have occurred in the United
States over the past five years have
American consumers increasingly aware
these naturally occurring threats to
safety. The federal government has
with the American food industry to
systems to protect the food supply.
Hazards Analysis-Critical Control Points
(HACCP) system¬described in Eating
just one example of how this collaboration
works. The federal Food Safety Initiative,
passed in 1997, aims further to improve
safety of the American food supply.
result of such efforts, the United
has the safest food supply in the world.
In addition to these recently mandated
many other food-processing procedures¬some
time-tested, some the fruits of modern
already in place to preserve and protect
the foods destined for America's tables.
ACSH Director of Nutrition Ruth Kava,
R.D., notes that "Irradiation,
canning, and freezing help to prevent
and botulism as well as the illnesses
can be traced to Salmonella, E. coli,
Professor Cliver observes, however,
"it is important for consumers
that absolutely risk-free food cannot
Improved sanitation can't remove parasites
from fish, for example." Consumers
therefore accept some responsibility
keeping food safe. Such steps as thoroughly
cooking food, storing it at appropriate
preventing cross-contamination from
and poultry to other foods, and always
hands, tools, and kitchen surfaces
clean are essential for maintaining
Despite the fact that people in the
States spend a smaller proportion of
income on food than do people in any
country, millions of Americans are
undernourished because they cannot
to buy enough food. "It is likely,"
says ACSH President Dr. Elizabeth M.
"that any additional changes to
food production system will increase
cost of America's food¬and that may
that more people will go hungry."
Whelan recommends that "before
any such changes, we should carefully
the benefits versus the risks."
Eating Safely: Avoiding foodborne Illness
discusses food safety issues from the
to the table and advises consumers
ways to reduce their risk of foodborne
The complete text of Eating Safely: Avoiding
Foodborne Illness may be downloaded from
ACSH's website at www.acsh.org. Bound copies may be ordered for $5.00 (price
includes postage and handling) from
The American Council on Science
1995 Broadway, 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10023-5860