Food Safety:

Reducing the Threat of Foodborne Illnesses

T-RCED-96-185: Published: May 23, 1996. Publicly Released: May 23, 1996.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed foodborne pathogens and their impact on public health. GAO noted that: (1) millions of illnesses and thousands of deaths result annually from contaminated foods; (2) the actual incidence of foodborne illnesses is unknown because most cases go unreported; (3) public health officials believe that the risk of foodborne illnesses has increased over the last 20 years because of food production changes, broader distribution, food mishandling, demographic changes, and new and more resistant bacteria; (4) the Department of Agriculture estimates that the costs of foodborne illnesses range from $5.6 billion to over $22 billion per year; (5) foodborne illnesses can also cause long-term disabilities, such as reactive arthritis and paralysis; (6) states are not required to report all foodborne illnesses or their causes; (7) more uniform and comprehensive data on the number and causes of foodborne illnesses could lead to the development of more effective control strategies, but federal officials are not sure they can continue to fund such data collection efforts if budget cuts continue; (8) federal agencies often do not address emerging food safety concerns because there are different rules for foods posing the same risks and limited inspection resources; and (9) unsuccessful coordination of food safety activities results from agencies' fragmented responsibilities.

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