Events, Speeches &
Fast Response Critical to Curbing Food Illness Outbreaks
June 23, 2009 | Watch
Mr. President, I'm proud to stand here today with Senator Chambliss, the Senator from Georgia, in speaking out in favor of our bill to bring food safety to this country.
It's interesting that we are introducing this bill together because, of course, this latest outbreak that got so much attention nationally with the Peanut Corporation of America started in Georgia. No one knew that at the time as people got sick across the country. And it really ended in Minnesota, where after three deaths in my own state, it was the Minnesota Department of Health and it was the University of Minnesota working together that once again solved the problem, figured out where the salmonella was coming from.
Our Senator from Georgia and the Senator from Minnesota got together to introduce this bill to say we want to do everything we can to prevent this from happening and when it does happen we want to do things as soon as possible so we have less people that get sick, less people that die. And a lot of that has to do with best practices. So I am proud to stand here with the Senator from Georgia today.
Mr. President, this past last week our country saw another food recall due to an outbreak of E. coli caused by refrigerated cookie dough manufactured by Nestle. The outbreak sickened people in 29 states and it is the latest -- the latest -- in a series of food-borne outbreaks in the last two years. Or at the least, the outbreaks that we know of.
Since many cases of food-borne illness are never reported or those that are reported are never linked to an identifiable common source, in the spring and summer of 2007, as you may recall, hundreds of people across the country were getting sick from salmonella. The source was traced to jalapeño peppers imported from Mexico. Last summer people fell ill -- last summer people fell from salmonella. Nine people died from salmonella poisoning, three from my home state in Minnesota.
In both of these outbreaks, more than half of the people who got sick or died did so before there was any consumer advisory or recall. Half of these people got sick or died before there was a consumer advisory or recall. In the case of the jalapeño peppers, people had been getting sick for almost two months before the advisory was issued about tomatoes. It was nearly three months before the first illness was reported in Minnesota. In the case of the peanut butter, people were getting sick for three months before the first recall was reported in my state, it is only when they get sick or die before it gets solved. We have to fix it. I'm proud we were able to catch these two major outbreaks, but we have to be doing it other places as well. The breakthrough in identifying the sources of contamination did not come from the Centers for Disease Control, it did not come from the Food and Drug Administration. It did not come from the National Institutes of Health. The breakthrough came from the Minnesota Department of Health and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture as well as a collaborative effort with the Minnesota Public School of Public Health. This initiative has earned a remarkable national reputation. Now with all due respect to their exemplary work, the nation should not have to wait until someone from Minnesota gets sick or dies from tainted food before there is an effective national response to investigate and identify the causes.
The problem is that the responsibility to investigate potential food-borne diseases rests largely on local and state health departments. That's okay if it worked everywhere the way it does in Minnesota. There is tremendous variation from state to state in terms of the priority and the resources that they dedicate to this responsibility. In Minnesota, it's a high priority and we have dedicated professionals who have developed sophisticated procedures for detecting, investigating and tracking cases of food-borne illnesses. The peanut butter-salmonella outbreak was so extensive and shocking that it put food safety on the agenda here in Washington. It's a crowded agenda, as we all know, but food safety must be there.
In March I joined with a bipartisan group of senators to introduce the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009 which would overhaul the federal government's food safety system. Other cosponsors are Senator Dick Durbin, Senator Judd Gregg, Ted Kennedy, Richard Burr, Chris Dodd, Lamar Alexander and Saxby Chambliss. This legislation is a comprehensive approach to strengthening the Food and Drug Administration's authority and resources. But I believe that there is much more that can and should be done. That's why along with Senator Chambliss I've introduced the Food Safety Rapid Response Act. This legislation focuses on the Centers for Disease control as well as state and local capabilities for responding to food-borne illness.
It has three main provisions. First, direct the Centers for Disease Control to enhance food-borne systems, to improve the collection, analysis, reporting and usefulness of data on food-borne systems. This includes better sharing of information among federal, state and local agencies and as well as with food industry and the public. It includes developing improved epidemiology tools and procedures to better detect food-borne disease clusters and improve trace backs to identify the contaminated food products. Our state is proud to be the home of Hormel and Land of Lakes and General Mills -- many other food processing companies -- and they are eager to help with this. Often they know the best way to trace back these food-borne illnesses and they want to have safe food and they are interested in helping.
Second, it directs the Centers for Disease Control to improve food-borne illness surveillance including providing support to state laboratories and agencies for outbreak investigations with needed specialty expertise. It also includes, and this is key, developing model practices at the state and local levels for spending to food-borne illnesses and outbreaks.
This is about the Minnesota model, these best practices. What happens in Minnesota, I tell you this, I bet it is as expensive in other states, but what we do is smart. We take a team of graduate students that are food detectives working together instead of going all over the state to maybe a county nurse in Redwing, someone in another county. This group of graduate students working under the supervision of doctors and people who are professionals in this area, literally call people who have been sick more maybe just a little sick and that way in one moment in time they immediately figure out what the people were eating, where the food came from. It is very sophisticated laboratory techniques that go on. But what works here is the teamwork with graduate students.
Finally, this legislation would establish Food Safety Centers of Excellence. The goal is to set up regional food safety centers at select public health departments and higher education institutions. This provides resources, training and coordination for state and local officials so that other states can be doing exactly what Minnesota does. In particular, they seek to distribute food safety best practices like those that have become the rule in my state.
Doctor Osterhall is a disease expert and you may have seen him featured with the latest flu outbreak. He is credited with the creation of the Minnesota Program. He has said the creation of regional programs models on Minnesota would go a long way toward providing precisely the real-time support for outbreak investigations at the state and local levels that is so sorely needed.
No one believes we can do all this out of Washington. That's why we simply have to upgrade the practices that our states are using when there is an outbreak so we don't have to wait for people to get sick or die in Minnesota to solve these problems. The recent outbreaks have shaken the confidence and trust in the food we eat. According to the Centers for Disease Control, food-borne disease causes 76 million illnesses, 335,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths in the United States. For each illness reported it is estimated up to 40 more illnesses are not reported or confirmed by a lab. The annual cost of medical care, loss of productivity and premature deaths due to food-borne illnesses is estimated to be $44 billion. There's a lot at stake here, Mr. President, both in terms of life and money. And I believe we can do so much better. I believe it because I've seen it in my state.
Senator Chambliss believes it, from the state of Georgia, where the latest outbreak occurred. He has seen the devastation to an industry in the only state with one bad actor and it gets out there and more people get sick and die and this doesn't help anyone, but it hurts, tremendously, the tragedy of so many families, three of them in my own state. We know we can do better and that is why we are introducing the bill. As a former prosecutor I believe the first responsibility of government is to protect its citizens. When people get sick or die from contaminated food, the government must take aggressive and immediate action. I believe that together, the Food Safety Rapid Response Act and the Food Safety Modernization Act will strengthen food and safety in America and ultimately save both lives and money.
Thank you very much, Mr. President. I yield the floor.
Senator Klobuchar’s Offices
302 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Main Line: 202-224-3244
Main Fax: 202-228-2186
Toll Free: 1-888-224-9043
1200 Washington Avenue South, Room 250
Minneapolis, MN 55415
Main Line: 612-727-5220
Main Fax: 612-727-5223
Toll Free: 1-888-224-9043
1130 1/2 7th Street NW, Room 208
Rochester, MN 55901
Main Line: 507-288-5321
121 4th Street South
Moorhead, MN 56560
Main Line: 218-287-2219
Olcott Plaza, Room 105
820 9th Street North
Virginia, MN 55792
Main Line: 218-741-9690