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How Safe Is Imported Food?

In the wake of some food safety scares, experts offer advice for worried consumers.

Country-of-Origin Labeling continued...

Critics call country-of-origin labeling a logistical nightmare, especially if manufacturers must list multiple countries for a single product. But a recent Consumer Reports poll found that 92% of Americans surveyed supported country-of-origin labeling.

Will knowing a food's origins automatically improve safety? Even U.S. products have had recent contamination problems, such as E. coli-tainted spinach from California and botulism in canned chili sauce from a Georgia plant.

"It's just the beginning. It's not going to solve our food system problems," Lovera says of labeling. "But if consumers are looking at the news and they see story after story about China or somewhere else, they can say, 'You know what? I'm just going to take a break because I'm worried about it.'"

Reducing Personal Risk

Right now, can consumers do anything to reduce their risk of harm from tainted food? There are no easy answers, but experts offer these tips: 

Buy well-known brands. "Because of these recent scares, a lot of very well-known manufacturers who have a great deal of stake in their brand names are now taking a very close look at where they're getting their ingredients," Waldrop says. "They have so much money invested in their brand and they don't want to see their brand hurt." 

Purchase locally grown produce as much as possible.  For example, Lovera says, "If you go to a farmers market, you can ask questions about how people raised it and see if you're comfortable with that. And it's easier to trace back if something goes wrong." 

Buy seafood only from reputable vendors. "Go to a grocer that you trust and start striking up a conversation with the person behind the seafood counter," Fiorillo suggests. Ask how to prepare seafood safely to prevent illness, he adds.

Check on recalls.  The government-run web site provides information on food recalls and safety alerts.


Reviewed on August 03, 2007

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