Over the past decade, food has become a central theme in entertainment. Television channels and programs are dedicated solely to food preparation, popular chefs, cooking contests, or the latest fad in restaurants. With coverage like this, our standard three meals a day almost resemble an obsession. If you have an idea for a television show that involves food, you will likely find an audience for it. That is, unless you are talking about food safety.
In 2006 my daughter Rylee got sick and almost lost her life from eating E. coli contaminated spinach. Since then I pay close attention to the items we buy, how we handle food and prepare our meals, and watch food recalls closely. Over the past eighteen months my family, together with Safe Tables Our Priority (S.T.O.P.), victims of foodborne illness and their families have been urging Congress to pass stronger food safety legislation to update laws that were enacted over 75 years ago – long before the globalization of our food supply.
Earlier this year, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and media-mogul Ryan Seacrest, launched the television series Food Revolution. The show brought residents of a West Virginian town into our homes once a week to share their struggles with obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Chef Oliver attempted to show them the rewards of cooking and good nutrition. His message: "This food revolution is about saving America's health by changing the way you eat. . . . Switching from processed to fresh food will not only make you feel better but it will add years to your life." Just a few days ago, Food Revolution won an Emmy award for Outstanding Reality Program.
While the celebrity chef and producer deserve acknowledgment for raising public awareness of good nutrition, the show missed an opportunity to further educate the public and completely ignored the issue of food safety. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the foods most commonly associated with foodborne illness are the those you would consider healthy: fresh produce and fruits, meat and poultry, eggs, and shellfish. At the time the Food Revolution team accepted their award, over half a billion eggs had been recalled due to salmonella contamination and sickened at least 1,300 people.
Here’s the good news: There is legislation that will move the focus to prevention of foodborne illness rather than reaction to it. The Food Safety Modernization Act (S. 510), will update the United States’ antiquated food safety system by giving the FDA mandatory recall authority, increase inspections of food processing facilities, require science based testing and reporting of pathogens for high risk products, and require imported foods to meet U.S. safety standards.
The bad news: Time is running out. This bill will not become law and will not do any of these things if the Senate doesn’t vote on it soon.
Hollywood, if you’re listening and really want to make an impact on the viewing public, help us make America aware of the need for healthy and (equally important) safe foods. We all need to eat and shouldn’t worry that in our quest for good nutrition, we may actually eat something that kills us.
To take action, visit http://bit.ly/aaU2cS and tell the White House it is time to pass strong FDA legislation now!
"Message From Jamie", http://www.jamieoliver.com/campaigns/jamies-food-revolution JamieOliver.com, August 2010.