A Step Forward On Food Safety

Each year approximately 87 million Americans -- 5 million in New York alone -- are made ill by contaminated food. Of those, 371,000 are hospitalized with foodborne illness, and 5,700 die. In 2010 America, this is simply unacceptable.

The fact is, our food safety laws have not truly been overhauled in more than a century. Back in December, in my post "A New Approach To Food Safety," I wrote about the importance of developing a new comprehensive food safety agenda that brings these laws up to date and focuses on prevention and notification.

As I wrote then:

...we must improve public education and ensure that information about food-borne illnesses and recalls are distributed accurately and efficiently. I am authoring the Consumer Recall Notification Act – legislation that would improve communication among states, state and local health departments, food distributors and vendors to provide consumers with faster and more complete information. For example, we must post all recall notices on the very grocery store shelves and freezers where a recalled product would have been bought. This will help consumers receive vital information in a timely manner.

We need to do a better job of catching contaminated food before it ever comes close to a kitchen table, a school cafeteria or a restaurant. It’s imperative that parents throughout the country have confidence that the food they serve their kids at home and the food they’re getting at school are safe.

I am now proud to report that this week, I've introduced The Consumer Recall Notification Act and we're hoping to include it as a part of Senator Durbin's comprehensive Food Safety Modernization Act, which the Senate will take up next month.

This bill would accomplish several important goals:

Notify Consumers

Stores that track purchases through customer loyalty cards or membership programs would be required to notify consumers when they have purchased a recalled product;

Distribute Information to Restaurants and Food Retailers

Facilities that have distributed foods subject to a Class I recall would be required to notify stores and restaurants within 24 hours of the public announcement of the recall.  The FDA would also be required publish a list online of all stores and restaurants that received contaminated products, which in turn must then post notices where the contaminated product was sold so that consumers can be alerted that they may have purchased a recalled product.

Distribute Information to Health Workers

When there is a Class I recall, the FDA would be required to distribute advisories to States, local health departments and frontline health professionals, which include a list of symptoms to look out for and test for in order to diagnose food-borne illness. 

We still have a lot more work to do to reform America's century-old food safety laws. Currently these laws do not go far enough to protect our families from food-borne illnesses. As the mother of two young boys, protecting children and all Americans from such preventable tragedies is one of the reasons I went into public service. The government must do all it can to protect its citizens and I'm proud to play a part in pushing this important piece of legislation forward.

While it's still an uphill climb to get included in the larger bill -- more likely, the bill will call for a study of the value of such notification procedures -- I'm proud that this bill has injected the importance of consumer notification into the conversation. I'm hopeful that -- whether through my bill or another -- similar consumer protections will be included in the final legislation that the Senate will take up next month.

As Good Housekeeping wrote last week, you can help by letting your Senator know that you support the Food Safety Modernization Act.

You can find out more about Senator Gillibrand at http://kirstengillibrand.com. You can also follow her on Facebook and on Twitter.


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