Is it Risky to Buy Imported Foods?

03/25/2012

Orange juice imageRecently, the FDA announced that it was testing samples of orange juice imported into the U.S. for carbendazim, a fungicide that’s illegal in the U.S. but approved for use in other countries including Mexico and Brazil. Reports showed farmers in Brazil had been using the outlawed fungicide to combat black spot, a fungi that damages orange trees

“To date, FDA has collected samples from 107 shipments of orange juice or orange juice concentrate. Of these, 78 shipments tested negative for carbendazim... and 63 of them have already been released. Of the 63 samples, 19 were shipments from Mexico, 22 from Canada, six from Dominican Republic, two each from Argentina, Belize, Costa Rica, Honduras, Italy, and Trinidad & Tobago, and one each from Brazil, Lebanon, Thailand and Turkey.”

This incident speaks to a larger issue related to buying imported foods. Since I began reporting on food safety it become clear to me the dangers of buying imported foods.  Last week I wrote about a new extensive CDC report showing that half of our nation’s foodborne illnesses are from imported sources and that number is on the rise.

The CDC reported on the outbreaks using the Foodborne Disease Outbreak Surveillance System from 2005 to 2010, which showed 39 outbreaks and 2,348 illnesses. But here's the kicker--nearly half occurred in 2009 and 2010.

A USDA report found that imports have grown from $41 billion in 1994 to $78 billion in 2007. We import 85 percent of seafood and 60 percent of fresh produce, depending on the season. Way too much for U.S. regulators to be able to control. The staff of inspectors at the FDA is overwhelmed at the expense of food safety. In reality, there are only enough evaluators to check 1.53 percent of food imports. That's scary stuff.

The globalization of our food system has meant the American people getting used to having what they want when they want it, but there is downsize in terms of food safety. The federal government just cannot control dangers in the rest of the world's food supply.

 Photo: Jupiterimages

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More on Food Safety
CDC Report: Food Imports Responsible for Half of Foodborne Illness Outbreaks
Can Eating Local Food Save Your Life? 
Common Bread Ingredient, L-Cysteine Derived From Human Hair 


Sara Novak writes about health and wellness for Discovery Health. Her work is also regularly featured in Breathe Magazine and on SereneKitchen.com. She has written extensively on food policy, food politics, and food safety.


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