Tainted cheese, lettuce and waffles are among the 56 food recalls that have affected Pennsylvania since stronger food-safety legislation stalled in Congress in July 2009, according to a study released this week.
The study, conducted by the Pennsylvania Public Interest Research Group (PennPIRG), the Consumer Federation of America and the Center for Science in the Public Interest, found that 85 recalls occurred in that time period nationwide.
"The release of the study is to show the public and [Congress] that food safety is a huge problem in this country and that our food safety-net needs an immediate overhaul," said Alana Miller, program associate for PennPIRG, a consumer advocacy organization.
The study, titled Recipe for Disaster, offers a detailed list of all 85 recalled items including dates, company and product names, number of states affected, and the illnesses that were reportedly linked to the recalls, most commonly, salmonella. Name brands listed in the report included Kellogg's Eggo Waffles and Trader Joe's chewy granola bars.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill calling for tougher food-safety standards in July 2009; a similar bill is stalled in the Senate. Miller hopes the release of this report will prompt Congress to act.
"The study shows that this should be their first priority and we do hope they will take action before October recess," she said.
Lisa Hark, a Philadelphia-based nutrition expert who spoke at a news conference in front of the Superfresh at 10th and South streets, said she was concerned by the report.
"It is unacceptable that I have to worry whether or not the food I feed my kids will make them sick," said Hark, a mother of two. "I work to feed my kids the healthiest food possible and the government needs to do its part to ensure my children's safety.
The U.S. Food & Drug Administration can't detect many violations sooner because the FDA is limited by laws that haven't been updated in 70 years, said Mike Taylor, deputy commissioner for the FDA.
"We also think that it's important that the legislation that is pending in Congress now be passed to physically strengthen our ability to enforce these standards through additional records access authority, additional resources to conduct inspections and other oversight activities," Taylor said.
The bills pending in Congress would require food companies to include additional safety measures as a part of their food processes and would give the FDA new authority to set higher safety standards, including mandatory inspection frequency, stronger trace-back provisions and mandatory recall authority.