Highly touted hygiene standards at home have led Americans to the false belief that all their foods are automatically safe. The tragic epidemic of pet deaths from contaminated foods that touched off a federal in-vestigation has slowly exposed an ugly secret about human foods, too.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration gives barely a glance at millions of imported shipments of seasoning ingredients from countries notorious for their unsanitary handling of foods. In a wide-ranging study, the Associated Press found that only about one percent of the 8.9 million imported food shipments dur-ing 2006 were inspected by the FDA.
Reasons? The principal cause is insufficient man-power overwhelmed by the staggering 73 percent in-crease in imported food ingredients—salad dressing, oils, gums, spices, flours and the like—over the past six years, plus lack of laboratory equipment for prompt, on-site tests.
Lower costs of products, and thus higher profits for food processors, are the driving forces in huge in-creases in imports. Added to that are the eclectic food tastes of Americans and demand from immigrant groups for ethnic ingredients that have propelled the import increases.
The AP found that products from Mexico, India and China had the highest failure rate when inspected for cleanliness.
Once again, for reasons that range from the debili-tating costs of the war in Iraq and the Bush admini-stration's hostility toward regulating business, Ameri-cans are left to either take their chances with imported ingredients or find ways to check them for safety.
As much as Americans love their pet dogs and cats, why should human food safety get less attention?