How Does the Government Shutdown Affect the FDA, CDC and USDA and Food Poisoning Outbreaks?
By Tony Coveny, Ph.D.
Saturday Night Live opened with a skit aimed at the government shutdown in which they featured “green beef”, a commercial focusing on the fact that the government shutdown (“partial” as it is) was leaving fundamental operations unfunded or understaffed. The majority of the media seems to focus on the most glaring problem, the TSA, because of their role in high-profile airports. The airports are becoming increasingly bogged down because of a shortage of labor. But so far, no security blunders seem to have occurred. ON the other hand, behind the scenes, key agencies whose work is more clandestine include the CDC, USDA, FSIS, and FDA. Each of these is suffering from the same inability to do their jobs and these failings may likely lead to more deadly outcomes.
The FDA, FSIS, and USDA all work to prevent food borne illness. they inspect foods, regulate compliance, and make sure our food is free of food borne pathogens like Salmonella, Listeria, and E. coli. These potentially deadly pathogens are arguably more of a threat than terrorism – consider the fact that Salmonella alone causes about 1.2 million illnesses every year in the U.S., leading to 23,000 hospitalizations and 450 deaths. In fact, among the 250 types of food poisoning, one in six Americans (that is about 50 million people) will get food poisoning each year.
TO make matters worse, the CDC is charged with preventing the spread of disease once it is identified. With it short staff and workers being unpaid, potential outbreaks are not being monitored, outbreak warnings pursued, or identified outbreaks aggressively opposed with nearly the same fervor. The men and women of the CDC are dedicated, but need the tools and concentration to pursue their mission – a mission that is compromised when they are either not able to work, do not have the support staff needed to work efficiently, or are unable to concentrate because they are not being paid.
Food Poisoning in 2018 and Some Facts About Food Poisoning in the U.S.
News reports of salmonella in ground turkey, e. coli in romaine lettuce, listeria in salads, and even hepatitis A in restaurant workers seem to permeate the food industry. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 48 million people get sick every year from food poisoning. Of those, 128,000 are hospitalized because of the severity of their symptoms, and 3,000 people die from foodborne illness.
There are, in fact, more than 250 types of foodborne illness. The top five in the US are:
- Norovirus – spreads very easily and quickly from infected people to others, and through contaminated foods and surfaces.
- Salmonella – causes about 1.2 million illnesses, 23,000 hospitalizations, and 450 deaths in the United States every year. Food is the source for about 1 million of these illnesses.
- Clostridium perfringens – commonly found on raw meat and poultry.
- Campylobacter – causes illnesses most commonly in people who eat raw or undercooked poultry or who eat something that touched it.
- Staphylococcus aureus – these bacteria can multiply in food and produce toxins that can make people ill.
Foodborne illness that most often leads to hospitalizations are caused by:
- Clostridium botulinum (botulism) – a rare but serious illness caused by a toxin that attacks the body’s nerves.
- Listeria – causes listeriosis, a serious infection acquired by eating contaminated food. An estimated 1,600 people get listeriosis each year, and about 260 die.
- Escherichia coli (e. coli) – causes diarrhea, urinary tract infections, respiratory illness and pneumonia, and other illnesses.
- Vibrio – causes an estimated 80,000 illnesses and 100 deaths in the US every year, usually in people who eat raw or undercooked seafood.
It is critical that consumers observe food safety procedures at home and become aware of potential dangers when eating out. Stay current on recall notices, throw out any potentially contaminated food, keep hands and food preparation surfaces clean, and always cook food to its proper and safe temperature, especially meat and poultry products.
Tony Coveny, Ph.D. is a Food Poisoning Lawyer. He works with Ron Simon of Ron Simon and Associates, a law firm that practices only food poisoning litigation and has taken the lead on many of food poisoning outbreaks in the last decade, filing food poisoning lawsuits and litigating for victims of food poisoning.