Foodborne illness is a big problem. Wash those chicken breasts, and you’re likely to spread Salmonella to your countertops, kitchen towels, and other foods nearby. Even salad greens can become biohazards when toxic strains of E. coli inhabit the water used to irrigate crops. All told, contaminated food causes 48 million illnesses, 128,000 hospitalizations, and 3,000 deaths each year in the United States.
With Outbreak, Timothy D. Lytton provides an up-to-date history and analysis of the US food safety system. He pays particular attention to important but frequently overlooked elements of the system, including private audits and liability insurance.
Lytton chronicles efforts dating back to the 1800s to combat widespread contamination by pathogens such as E. coliand salmonella that have become frighteningly familiar to consumers. Over time, deadly foodborne illness outbreaks caused by infected milk, poison hamburgers, and tainted spinach have spurred steady scientific and technological advances in food safety. Nevertheless, problems persist. Inadequate agency budgets restrict the reach of government regulation. Pressure from consumers to keep prices down constrains industry investments in safety. The limits of scientific knowledge leave experts unable to assess policies’ effectiveness and whether measures designed to reduce contamination have actually improved public health. Outbreak offers practical reforms that will strengthen the food safety system’s capacity to learn from its mistakes and identify cost-effective food safety efforts capable of producing measurable public health benefits.