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Harkin calls for tougher food-safety enforcement

By Dan Piller | DesMoinesRegister.com

U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Ia., said Wednesday in Des Moines that the nation needs updated food safety standards and enforcement, particularly for fruits and vegetables that are sold without inspection.

"This is becoming a real problem, particularly as people are incorporating more fresh fruits and vegetables into their diets," Harkin said at a panel discussion at Drake University that was sponsored by the Make Our Food Safe Coalition of consumer groups.

Harkin said fruits and vegetables are at the heart of a weakness in the inspection system - that food imported from countries with standards less stringent than those of the United States can get into the food chain here without inspection.

Harkin, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, is trying to pass a food safety inspection and standards bill that the House passed in July. "Remember that the Senate still has to deal with the health care issue," he told about 100 people at the event.

Dr. Patricia Quinlisk, Iowa's medical director, said last year that the most common food-borne contamination in humans was campho bacter, with 600 cases, followed by 425 salmonella cases and 223 E. coli illnesses.

"Keep in mind that 50 percent of all food contaminations in humans aren't reported because the victim doesn't seek medical treatment, so the numbers are undoubtedly understated," she said.

One observer at the meeting was Dana Boner of Monroe, whose daughter Kayla, 14, died of E. coli contamination in November 2007. The teen died of a strain of the contamination for which government inspectors did not look.

"We trust companies with our lives to put products on the shelves, and the companies are more concerned about profits than food safety," Boner said.

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