When I think about the scope and scale of our food system, it is impossible not to get a sense of the enormity of the tasks involved in keeping our food safe to eat. The reality is that many products are distributed far across the country (and world), far from where they originated. When a contaminated product enters the food system, the potential reach of the problem could be vast. Think back to a recent example that made news headlines of romaine lettuce grown in California which sickened people in 16 states. In that outbreak, it was the bacteria, E. coli O157:H7, which had contaminated the lettuce and was causing infections. Many other things can get unintentionally get incorporated into our food: plastics, metals, animal parts, insects… not very appetizing, right? For people who have allergies, foods that unexpectedly contain allergens such as nuts, can pose health risks. I saw that a batch of peppermint patty ice cream made by one of my favorite creameries was recalled this last week due to the potential presence of peanuts.

How is our food kept safe? One entity responsible for food safety is the US Food and Drug Administration. The FDA protects the public health by ensuring the safety, efficacy, and security of human and veterinary drugs, biological products, and medical devices; and by ensuring the safety of our nation’s food supply, cosmetics, and products that emit radiation. Curious about current foods that are the subject of recalls? Check out the “Recalls, Market Withdrawals & Safety Alerts” issued by the US FDA.

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