Estimate: 1 in 6 Americans will get food poisoning this year

March 11, 2013 3:10:09 PM PDT
It is estimated that one in six Americans will get sick from food poisoning this year.

That's 48 million people. And the grim reality: some will suffer the rest of their life and others will die.

The Food and Drug Administration wants to stop foodborne illness at the source with proposed changes to the way food is grown and processed .

In Chicago Monday and Tuesday, the public is invited to weigh in.

Nancy Donley lost her 6-year-old son, Alex, 20 years ago after he ate a hamburger tainted with the dangerous E. coli bacteria.

Since then, there have been other deadly outbreaks -- everything from contaminated cantaloupes to peanut butter.

Donley is now a spokesperson for the organization Stop Foodborne Illness.

"Back when my son got sick and died, I had assumed that food we purchased was safe," said Donley. "It was just something people assumed, and people still do assume that today, and unfortunately, it's not the case."

Chicago is the site of one of only three public hearings on this issue.

Everyone from farmers to food processors, even young victims of food poisoning, are weighing in.

The Food Safety Modernization Act aims to reduce the number of people getting sick.

"In the new law, Congress has given us new inspection frequency mandates, new records access authority, new enforcement tools, so we can act much more expeditiously when we find a problem," said Michael Taylor, deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine with the FDA.

Two of the five changes have now been made public. They will set standards for the growing, harvesting packing and holding of raw fruits and vegetables, whether they are grown in the U.S. or imported.

Makers of food will have to develop a plan to prevent foodborne illness. Produce farmers will have to enforce safety standards that will include the way manure is used as fertilizer.

"We have one of the safest food supplies in the world, but we have learned, and the CDC statistics make it clear, too many people get sick we have 3,000 deaths a year --over 100,000 hospitalizations," said Taylor. "We need to keep a continuous improvement mode in working to do everything we can to reduce those numbers."

The new rules will not affect dairy, beef or poultry operations. Some say these rules don't go far enough, and others insist they put an unfair burden on farmers and food producers who already do the very best to keep their products save.

The public comment will continue through Tuesday.

FDA page about the hearing:

Public Meetings

March 11, 2013
8:30 am -5:00 pm

March 12, 2013
8:30 am -12:00 pm

The Westin-Michigan Avenue
909 N. Michigan Avenue
Chicago, IL 60611