The E. coli outbreaks in October and December 2006 have thrust the importance of food safety regulation into the spotlight says Dr. Robert Field, chair of the Department of Health Policy and Public Health at University of the Sciences in Philadelphia.
We have come to take the safety of what we eat for granted. We know that too much fast food can kill us over time, but how many people realized that on rare occasions, it can do so much more quickly, Field said. A tremendous amount of effort that we never see goes on in the trenches by regulators every day. It is not glamorous, but our lives can depend on it.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the strain of E. coli O157:H7 that was linked to contaminated spinach, affected 199 people in 26 states in October. The outbreak tied to Taco Bell restaurants in December involved 71 people spread throughout five states.
Effective regulation requires a delicate balance of many interests, Field added. Maintaining it is an ongoing challenge. The E. coli outbreaks reflect how important it is to do so.
The average delay before the onset of E. coli symptoms is three to four days after eating contaminated food. However, it ranges between as little as one day and as many as 10 according to the CDC.
We do not want to wait until after the fact to discover that a potentially deadly agent, like E. coli, has contaminated our food supply, Field said. This is an area in which most would agree that vigilant oversight is in everyones interest.
Field is the author of Health Care Regulation in America: Complexity, Confrontation and Compromise, a comprehensive guide to the regulatory maze. He gives a brief history of food regulation in his book.
Source: University of the Sciences in Philadelphia