Las Vegas Sun

March 31, 2015

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Food safety laws in need of updating

It’s hard for me to imagine a time when I was carefree about what I ate. It all changed on Aug. 26, 2006, when my daughter Rylee suddenly became ill with what we thought was a common intestinal bug. In a matter of hours, stomach cramps turned into bloody diarrhea. Then Rylee’s kidneys began to fail, and fluid built up around her heart and filled her lungs. She became combative and experienced hallucinations, had temporary vision and hearing loss and developed diabetes. After several days and many tests, we realized Rylee had eaten contaminated spinach and was now one of the tens of millions of Americans affected by food-borne illness each year.

Like many Americans whose lives have been affected by food-borne illness, I was shocked to learn that our food safety system is based, in large part, on laws enacted more than 100 years ago, and that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration — which regulates 80 percent of the nation’s food supply — inspects domestic food-processing facilities on average only once every 10.5 years. This is unacceptable.

In the area of inspections, as well as other components of our food safety system, the laws and regulations are woefully inadequate to effectively oversee what has become a complex global food supply.

During this holiday season, my family and many others throughout Nevada and the rest of the country will share memorable meals together. Although I would like to think the food we will eat is as safe as it could be, the rash of food-borne illness outbreaks in recent years — from spinach to peanut butter products to cookie dough — suggests otherwise.

Food-borne illness has affected the lives of far too many people in Nevada and throughout the country. No child, parent or grandparent should have to go through what my family has been through.

Fortunately, Congress is listening. This summer the House of Representatives passed an important piece of bipartisan legislation, the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009 (H.R. 2749). Now it’s up to the Senate to pass similar legislation.

Recently, Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, personally expressed his support of this legislation and worked with his colleagues on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee to unanimously approve the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (S. 510). Bipartisan support like this is not often seen in Washington these days, and it signals that the time has come to make food safety a priority and enact sweeping changes to the nation’s food oversight system.

Historic reform to protect Americans is in sight, and I ask Sen. John Ensign to join Sen. Reid to bring the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act to the floor for a vote in the first few weeks of the new year. The longer it takes Congress to pass this comprehensive legislation, the more consumer confidence in our food supply will erode.

But even worse, the outbreaks of contaminated food are sure to continue, causing millions more Americans to suffer the devastating and sometimes fatal consequences.

My wish this holiday season is that as we gather around the table with family and friends, we will be able to give thanks not only for each other, but also for the safety of our food supply.

Kathleen Chrismer, who lives in Henderson, is a member of Safe Tables Our Priority. STOP is part of the Make Our Food Safe Coalition, which is urging passage of food safety legislation in Congress.

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