Does the threat of being felled by a carnitas burrito at your local taquería or sidelined by the potato salad at your annual church picnic keep you up at night? Nope? Me neither! But, according to President Obama, the U.S. food system is a “hazard to public health,” and we should all be quivering in our urb-ag-chic Wellies. In January, he signed into law the Food Safety Modernization Act, authorizing $1.4 billion dollars to be poured into Food and Drug Administration prevention and enforcement activities. Great, except in the quest to fan public outrage, a few untruths have been (conveniently) perpetuated.
Food safety has actually improved since the mid-1990s when the Centers for Disease Control first began its national monitoring program, with net incidence of the major illnesses falling by 20 percent. On a disease-by-disease basis, that means 30 percent less campylobacter, 41 percent less toxin-producing E. coli and 10 percent less salmonella. In fact, the only increase — by 85 percent — has been in vibrio, contracted by eating raw shellfish. (You heard it, people, shuck and slurp and you’re on your own.) And even though the CDC recently tripled the number of major foodborne pathogens it monitors from 9 to 31, it reduced its estimate of annual illnesses from 76 to 48 million.