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Proposed Warning for Selected Foods

Originally Published in The Goldhaber Warnings Report, July 2013

By: Gerald M. Goldhaber, Ph.D.
Tel: 212-379-6661
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Last month's issue of the Goldhaber Warnings Report focused on the dangers of added sugar to many products sold in the U.S. But sugar, while a major culprit in the causal chain leading to a variety of serious illnesses such as Type 2 Diabetes and other cardio-vascular diseases and certain cancers, is not the only food product that may need a safety warning. Let's look at a few potential examples of products that might benefit from a safety warning.

1) Produce. There are 48 million foodborne illnesses and 3000 deaths per year, according to CDC statistics. That means that 1 in six Americans will suffer a foodborne illness in the coming year, such as ecoli, salmonella or food poisoning. 90% of all foodborne outbreaks are associated with leafy greens (e.g., spinach, lettuce, sprouts), tomatoes and berries. When such an outbreak occurs, the media, the FDA and the CDC will hammer away at the risks to the public, thus creating a mass mediated warning system, probably more timely and more effective than pntting a warning label on a head of lettuce. In 2010, the Food Safety and Modernization Act gave the FDA, for the first time, the mission to overhaul its monitoring of food safety (mostly for fruits and vegetables). In accordance with this act, the FDA can now shut down companies with hazardous operations. However, this law does NOT apply to 20% of the nation's food supply (e.g., meat, chicken, pork aod processed egg products.) The USDA can inspect but NOT shut down flawed food facilities. The FDA rule also exempts corn and cooked potatoes.

2) Powdered Infant Formula. (PIF) Few mothers and pediatricians know that powdered infant formula is not sterile. The World Health Organization reports that PIF may contain a pathogen that can cause meningitis (serious brain injury) in any neonatal infant, especially those who were born premature, with low birth weight and a compromised immunity system. While the risk is low, perhaps as low as 1 in 100,000 cases, the FDA has set precedent for tough warnings on a product with a similar risk, tampons and the risk of TSS. Moms do have the option of buying a STERILE ready-to-feed product, for the 28 day neonatal period, ironically made by the same companies who manufacture PIF. I have recommended in my work for plaintiff's lawyers on the PIF litigation the following warning in my continuing effort to provide moms and pediatricians an INFORMED CHOICE before purchasing PIF for a neonate: Danger: PIF is not sterile and may contain deadly bacteria that cause meningitis, brain injury or death, especially in neonatal babies. Consult your doctor before giving PIF to any neonate.

3) NRTE'S are a third area where warnings may be appropriate. Not Ready To Eat frozen dinners may have raw, uncooked ingredients that aren't sterile. Since 1/3 of Americans are either tota11y or functionally illiterate, they may not unders1and what this means to their food preparation. Industry has pushed the use of digital thermometers for families to determine if the raw, uncooked food ingredients in the NRTE'S have been adequately cooked to 145-165 degrees. However, since only 3% of Americans use digital thermometers and most Americans don't know the wattage of tbeir microwave oven (which determines the final temperature meals should be cooked at), the following warning may help: "Danger: This prodoct contains raw food that is not sterile and may be contaminated with dangerous bacteria such as ecoli and salmonella that can lead to serious food poisoning or death. Be sure and follow all food preparation and use instructions, including the use of a digital thermometer. Do NOT serve or eat undercooked food."

Feel free to pass this issue of the Goldhaber Warnings Report on to any friend or colleague.

Dr. Gerald M. Goldhaber, the President of Goldhaber Research Associates, LLC, is a nationally recognized expert in the fields of Political Polling and Warning Label Research. His clients include Fortune 500 companies, as well as educational and governmental organizations. He has conducted hundreds of surveys, including political polls for candidates running for U.S Congress, Senate, and President. Dr. Goldhaber also served as a consultant to President Reagan's Private Sector Survey for Cost Control.

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