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CSPI’s 10 Riskiest Foods Really Aren’t: It’s time to stop misleading the public

With a fundamental interest in public advocacy, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) just reported on the top 10 riskiest foods regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The 10 ‘featured’ foods, many popular and healthy staples of the American diet, according to the report, accounted for nearly 40% of all foodborne illness outbreaks from 1990 to 2006. CSPI’s list in descending order: leafy greens, eggs, tuna, oysters, potatoes, cheese, ice cream, tomatoes, sprouts, and berries.

We at The Lempert Report and SupermarketGuru.com are convinced that consumers will change or rethink their eating habits based on the media frenzy now surrounding these foods. Which is unfortunate. This information has already and will cause great confusion to the general population. Looking back to the 2006 E. coli contaminated bagged spinach outbreaks, sales dropped by 5% and a staggering 25% percent the following year; and have never rebounded fully. We are betting this report will have a similar affect on the foods listed in the misleading CSPI report and it is irresponsible both to the consumer and to the food industry.

Remember, this report reviewed data dating back to 1990; over the past 20 years there has been much improvement in food safety science and manufacturing and clearly those improvements must be considered and applauded. Another problem: some data used focused on single outbreaks not primarily linked to the food in question—for example, most of the ice cream illnesses were due to homemade ice cream made with raw eggs; rather than ice cream sold in a supermarket. Caroline Smith DeWaal, the food safety director for CSPI commented that this was the cause for 75% of the ice cream illnesses reported. Clearly singling out ice cream as the culprit doesn’t seem fair, and causes unnecessary consumer confusion. The National Milk Producers Federation and the U.S. Potato Board feel the data is at the very least misleading. And we must agree.

Phil LempertPhil Lempert, Editor
The Lempert Report

This was excerpted from Phil Lempert’s article “The 10 Riskiest Foods Really Aren’t.” View the complete article. View the video version.

View the CSPI report (pdf).

Get the discussion started:

1. The CSPI says the report was intended as a review of the food safety system, mainly targeted for scientists and regulators, not the general public. So why then did CSPI release it to the general consumer press?

2. Phil believes this report will cause undo concern among consumers and possibly led to a change in their eating habits. What do you think?

3. Do you think that the recently passed House bill—The Food Safety Enhancement Act— and the yet to be passed Senate bill—The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act—will make a significant difference in reducing foodborne illnesses and outbreaks?

2 Responses

  1. Many of the foods listed in this report are those which are being promoted as healthy by nutritionist. How can this not confuse the public? I believe that responsible publishers of information to the public should not sensualize their publication in a manner which establishes fear in the public to risks which historically appear rare and not chronic in our food supply. Clearly, if a food has a history of risk to the public, such, as raw shell fish, then this infromation would be helpful to report to the public. I see an anology of this situatiuon to that of the recent warning to pregnant women not to consume fish due to risk of heavy metals. Later the risk were considered lesser than that of not obtaining the valuable nutrients in fish and the warning was amneded to not to consume fish in excess. How many years will the public retain the mandate that pregnant women must not eat fish.
    Whenever the public is told that sometime is good for them only later to hear that it is harmful, this confuses the public and results in the public distructing any information from the science community.

  2. I HOPE consumers won’t change their eating habits based on this report.

    If anything, it should lead consumers to buy local, which decreases the risk of widespread outbreaks.

    I also agree with Mel above. We need to stop confusing the public!

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