What To Know About How We Deal With Foodborne Illness Outbreaks

Photographed by Ruby Yeh.
We've got listeria here and salmonella there. Sometimes, it seems like there's a new foodborne illness outbreak every day. So, you might wonder: Who's keeping track of all this stuff? In honor of World Health Day's focus on food safety (and with the help of this new TestTube video), we're happy to tell you.

This can be a confusing subject in the U.S. because more than one government agency is involved. We've got the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and — when things get serious — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Although there's a lot of overlap, TestTube explains that the USDA is mainly focused on agriculture, including animal welfare and food distribution.

The FDA gets to worry about the health impacts of food, as well as those of cosmetics and prescription drugs and many other things. It may be more likely to act on tips from consumers, and it has the power to issue mandatory recalls. However, food companies themselves also do their own inspections and often keep detailed records of what's going on.  

If there are so many people working on food safety, why do we keep having outbreaks? For one thing, a recent audit of the FDA suggested that the agency is both underfunded and understaffed. And, we don't necessarily get to see the outbreaks the FDA prevents, because, well, they've been prevented. As for the USDA, it prevents an estimated 25,000 foodborne illness cases per year.

Clearly, though, even with all of these eyes on your food, your own eyes are important, too. For more information on how to choose and prepare safe food, check out the FDA's recommendations.
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Video: Via YouTube.
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