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Doctor suggests reforms to stop foodborne illness

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

Writing in the New England Journal of Medicine, Dennis G. Maki, M.D. takes a look at foodborne illness, the sources of recent outbreaks and official attempts to control the food-based spread of pathogens.

Once again, we must ask ourselves how foodborne disease can develop in 76 million residents of one of the world’s most technically advanced countries each year, causing 350,000 hospitalizations and 5000 deaths and adding $7 billion to our health care costs, despite intensive regulation of food production and distribution.

Industrial food production and importation, the American fondness for eating at restaurants and centralized distribution have helped to multiply the damage caused by any single outbreak, Maki said.

Maki suggested several possible measures to combat the spread of foodborne pathogens:

  • Requiring bar codes for all commercial food so its origins and contact points can be quickly and easily traced.
  • Changing the feeding practices of cattle, poultry and swine and reduce reliance on practices like anti-microbial food supplements that may promote the growth of harmful bacteria.
  • Improving hygienic food-preparation practices in homes, restaurants and hospitals and giving local health departments the power and means to monitor these practices.
  • Irradiating high-risk foods because “the CDC has estimated that irradiation of high-risk foods could prevent up to a million cases of bacterial foodborne disease each year in North America.”

Related:

Fatal Food: A study of illness outbreaks
Thomas Hargrove of Scripps Howard News Service wrote about foodborne illness outbreaks in a 2007 article for AHCJ. He found that some states did a good job of diagnosing and tracking down the causes of outbreaks, while other states “are virtually blind in detecting outbreaks of food illness.”