In late July, the U.S. House of Representatives narrowly approved new food safety guidelines giving the Food and Drug Administration new authority to order mandatory recalls.
While the move earned praise from the White House, critics say the fact that eggs, meat, poultry and other foods remain under USDA – and not FDA - purview is but one of the bill's many weaknesses.
A similar measure is pending in the Senate. And with Congress still in recess, food safety advocates gathered in Des Moines, Iowa this week to share their stories and call for further reforms.
Dana Boner, Kayla's Mother: "Kayla was germophobic. She was OCD and washed her hands hundreds of times a day. So for her to contact this doesn't make sense."
Dana Boner knows the heartbreak of losing a loved one to a food borne illness. In 2007, her daughter Kayla died from an E. coli infection.
Dana Boner, Kayla's Mother: "Something does need to be done. People die from it, my child died from it, and what angers me is that we'll never know what she died from. All we know is it was E. coli."
According to the Centers for Disease Control, an estimated 76 million food-related illness occur annually in the U.S., resulting in 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths.
Sen. Tom Harkin, D - Iowa: "As I have observed many times, to say that food safety in this country is a patchwork system is giving it too much credit. Food safety in America has too long been a hit-or-miss gamble with parents obliged to roll the dice when it comes to the safety of their kids' food. We need to act and we need to act now."
"Make Our Food Safe," a coalition of food advocacy organizations, is organizing events, including the one attended by Senator Harkin in Iowa this week, to gather support for stronger food safety legislation.
Donna Rosenbaum, Executive Director of Safe Tables Our Priority: "One of the issues that is most astounding to the American Public and to the families affected by food borne illness, is the fact that in this country we have no mandatory recall. The government does not have mandatory recall authority. Neither the USDA nor the FDA."
Donna Rosenbaum, the Executive Director of Safe Tables Our Priority, believes the most important thing that could be done to improve food safety is to increase the number of inspections of domestic facilities and foreign imports.
Donna Rosenbaum, Executive Director of Safe Tables Our Priority: "The FDA inspects on average, and they're inspecting 80% of the food supply, on average a food facility every ten years on the domestic side and approximately 1% of foreign imports. And, I think the American public deserves better protection than that."
Despite a wide range of opinions on how to ensure the safety of the nation's food supply, it's clear that nothing will change without Congressional action.
Sen. Tom Harkin, D - Iowa: "I think the big hurdle we have to get over is how we combine the Food and Drug Administration with their jurisdiction with the USDA and their jurisdiction. Quite frankly, I think the USDA does a very good job in its food safety and inspection service. But I do think they need better coordination with the FDA. I think that's what's lacking in both bills and that's what I hope to strengthen in the bill in the Senate.