Food recalls are on the rise and our food safety systems are broken, despite government concerns to address the problem.  That's according to a new report by New Jersey PIRG which finds contaminated food makes 48 million Americans sick every year and costs over $77 billion in aggregated economic costs. 

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In New Jersey over the last 21 months, 121 people were sickened from food-borne illnesses linked directly to food recalls.  The cost to the Garden State was more than $5.1 million.

"Every year we see hundreds of food products recalled because they have caused sickness and in some cases death.  This year has already seen nearly twice as many illnesses due to recalls as 2011, with high-profile recalls of cantaloupes and hundreds of thousands of jars of peanut butter," said Peter Skopec, Advocate at New Jersey PIRG.  "More needs to be done to identify the contaminants that are making us sick and to protect Americans from the risk of unsafe food."

The report, entitled "Total Food Recall: Unsafe Foods Putting American Lives at Risk," analyzed nationwide recall information issued by the Food and Drug Administration and the Food Safety Inspection Service from January 2011 to September 2012.  During that period, there were:

  • 1,753 food-borne Illnesses directly linked to recalls of food products from known pathogens such as Listeria and Salmonella
  • 37 deaths directly linked to recalls of food products
  • $227 million in economic and health related costs linked to recalls of food products

The Food Safety Modernization Act, signed into law in January 2011, was designed to give the FDA new tools and new powers to protect consumers, but it's not being fully implemented and foods remain unsafe, according to New Jersey PIRG.

"We need a food safety system that is fully funded and fully staffed so it can stop unsafe food from reaching our dinner tables," said Skopec.  "We must move away from the current reactive approach, where recalls happen after dangerous products have already made it into families' kitchens and focus on prevention.  The Food Safety Modernization Act should be fully implemented and the Administration should not waste any more time in strengthening our food safety systems."