The United States has one of the best food safety systems in the world.  But, even in the best of systems, there is always room for improvement.

Our surveillance, testing and reporting systems represent areas we should evaluate, along with inter-agency coordination and cooperation between federal and state officials, which are critical in identifying, tracking and responding to outbreaks of food-borne illness.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that food-borne illnesses affect 76 million Americans each year, resulting in 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths.  Food-borne illnesses also impose tremendous costs on the U.S. economy.  The Department of Agriculture estimates costs associated with medical expenses, premature death, and losses in productivity due to missed work from five major types of food-borne illnesses at $6.9 billion annually.

No one innovates like small business, and there’s no shortage of companies with great new ideas to improve food safety, as we found Wednesday during a hearing to take a closer look at the recent E. coli outbreak associated with bagged spinach. The hearing helped us understand how the outbreak was identified, tracked and ultimately contained. We must look into new technologies that could help limit or even prevent future outbreaks being developed by small businesses nationwide.

It’s clear that there will always be new and emerging food-borne pathogens that need to be identified. And improving the nation’s food safety system may depend on advancing new technologies to limit or even prevent future outbreaks, and better coordination and cooperation between federal and state officials charged with safeguarding the food supply.