Egg recall sparks calls for quick passage of food safety legislation

The recall of 380 million eggs — almost 32 million dozen — due to a possible salmonella contamination is sparking calls for the quick passage of food-safety legislation after the August recess.

The recent outbreak has sickened hundreds of people across multiple states.

The Senate health panel unveiled a manager's package last week that grants the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) expanded powers to recall tainted food, quarantine geographical areas and access food producers’ records. Similar legislation cleared the House in July 2009.

"This outbreak is just further proof of how quickly a food borne illness can multiply across states, sickening Americans and causing widespread distrust over the safety of our food system," Senate Health Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said in a statement Thursday. "And it adds to the urgency that, for far too long, has told the story of why comprehensive food safety legislation is needed. Our 100-year-old plus food safety structure needs to be modernized."

Harkin went on to detail how the egg contamination may have played out differently had the bill's provisions been in effect.

"The bill pending in Congress would offer additional protection against such an outbreak in the future," Harkin said. "For example, the bill would give FDA authority to initiate a mandatory recall of the eggs had the company involved refused to do so; the trace back provisions in the bill would help public health agencies identify the source in a future outbreak; and the new importation provisions in the bill would apply to any eggs imported into the U.S. from abroad, which would certainly help prevent against a Salmonella outbreak from foreign eggs. Our bill also mandates that firms that manufacture and process food implement preventive controls to help prevent food-borne contamination and ensure the safety of food."