With imported foods becoming increasingly common, ensuring the safety of such items becomes critical. A new report from the Chicago Tribune discusses the progress that has been made in assuring the safety of food that comes from abroad and offers tips on how we as consumers can protect ourselves from foodborne illness.
The Government Accountability Office has stated that 10-15% of the food Americans eat is now imported from foreign shores. And since 2005, the number of imports has increased by about 10% every single year, with seafood, produce, and processed goods making up the lion’s share of the imports. And these figures will only increase as we move forward.
Even though the five year period between 2005 and 2010 saw 2,348 people becoming ill from food imports, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, those large-sounding numbers would actually only comprise about .7% of all illnesses relating to food outbreaks.
The truth is, many actions have been taken to improve the safety of imports. The Food and Drug Administration now employs teams in countries across the globe, with China in particular making strides in protecting their exports. 1,600 Chinese regulators and manufacturers have learned how to adhere to United States standards thanks to an FDA staff comprised of 13 people who maintain a presence in China at all times.
Another area where food imports continue to grow is in the number of organic products that come to American shores. To cope with this increase and ensure that an item is in fact organic, every product must be certified through the National Organics Program of the United States Department of Agriculture. This helps verify that a given product has not been exposed to pesticides, fertilization, irradiation, and more.
Regulators have also instituted labeling requirements which state that a product must contain a sticker relating an item’s place of origin. All such products must also meet FDA standards.
The report also offers a series of tips that can be followed to better ensure your imported food is safe, and many of the tips could be used for domestic products as well. First, abstain from eating fish that hasn’t been cooked all the way through, as such items are a breeding ground for foodborne illness. You should also verify that the company that supplies your imported food is reputable and keep yourself up to date on recalls through the FDA’s website.
You should also wash your hands before food consumption. When cooking a product, utilize a food thermometer to guarantee proper internal temperatures, and chill a product if it’s going to be left out for awhile. Finally, be sure to separate produce from raw meats, as bacteria can easily be transferred from meat products to fruits and vegetables.