In 2011, an outbreak of listeria in Canteloupe melons claimed dozens of lives in the US and made international headlines. It also highlighted what critics say is a lack of regulations concerning the production of the foods that Americans eat.
Since last summer alone, similar outbreaks in other fruits, cheese and peanut butter have been linked to hundreds of people falling sick.
Now, the US Food and Drug Administration has announced new regulations it says will curtail the outbreak of foodborne illnesses that kill thousands of Americans every year.
"I think it's a fallacy that more regulations make food safer."
- Baylen Linnekin, the executive director of Keep Food Legal
Farmers will have to take new precautions to prevent contamination and manufacturers will have to prove they are keeping their operations clean.
Food advocates say such rules are long overdue, but the proposals have also been highly criticised.
The plan could cost large farms $30,000 a year to implement. And in an effort to prevent further protests, the regulations will only apply to some farms. For example, the ones growing green beans to be canned would not be regulated.
What will the proposed rules really achieve? Is there a risk of the food industry becoming overregulated? And what do the new regulations mean for farmers?
Joining Inside Story Americas, with presenter Kimberly Halkett, to discuss food contamination and the new US regulations are guests: Bill Marler, a lawyer and expert in food safety; Baylen Linnekin, the executive director of Keep Food Legal; and John Spink, the associate director of the Anti-Counterfeiting and Product Protection Program at Michigan State University.
"I think our government and industry has a responsibility to try to drive those numbers down. The numbers of many foodborne pathogens have gone down, but they have gone down because of very extensive regulation on the meat side .... We're certainly not going to drive this down to zero, but we have an obligation to the families of the people that I represent to do a heck of a better job than we are doing now."
Bill Marler, a lawyer and expert in food safety
ABOUT US FOOD SAFETY:
- According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in six people in the US get sick every year from contaminated food
- Of those, 128,000 people are hospitalised, while 3,000 die
- The US has been hit by several food safety scandals in recent years
- In 2011, an outbreak of listeria in Canteloupe melons claimed 33 lives, caused by dirty conditions at a farm in Colorado
- In 2012, salmonella was found in some peanut butter which caused 42 illnesses; inspectors found multiple safety problems at the plant in New Mexico
- Also in 2012, 800 cases of illness were caused in the US by contaminated imported food, such as tuna flakes, melons, mangoes and ricotta cheese