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FoodSafety 4thLd-Writethru 04-24

Spotlight on food safety

Families victimized by tainted spinach and peanut butter put a human face on recent high-profile outbreaks of foodborne illness Tuesday, urging lawmakers to strengthen federal oversight of the nation’s food supply.

"I can’t protect them from spinach — only you guys can," said Michael Armstrong, as he and his wife, Elizabeth, cradled daughters Ashley, 2, and Isabella, 5. The two girls fell ill — Ashley gravely so — in September after eating a salad made with a bag of the leafy greens contaminated by E. coli.

That and other incidents of contamination have raised questions not only about the U.S. food supply but efforts by the Food and Drug Administration and other government agencies to keep it safe. The safety of domestic food was questioned anew last fall when officials traced a nationwide E. coli outbreak to contaminated spinach processed by Natural Selection Foods LLC. Three people died and nearly 200 others were sickened. More recently, contaminated peanut butter and pet food have been recalled.

"I don’t see the latest string of incidents as aberrations," said Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo. "It’s become a systemic problem and it calls for systemic solutions." She has introduced legislation to give the FDA and Agriculture Department the authority to mandate recalls, in line with a proposal by the Government Accountability Office. Other legislative efforts include proposals to create a single Food Safety Administration and develop a uniform reporting system to track contaminated food.

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