The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported last week that foodborne disease outbreaks associated with imported foods rose in 2009 and 2010. Ok, not surprising at all. The CDC also found that fish and spices were the most common sources of foodbone outbreaks linked to imported foods. OK, that’s a little surprising. On top of that, most of the seafood and fresh produce we eat in the US is imported! Now that is shocking.
According to a report by the Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service (ERS), U.S. food imports grew from $41 billion in 1998 to $78 billion in 2007. Much of that growth has occurred in fruit and vegetables, seafood and processed food products. The report estimated that as much as 85 percent of the seafood eaten in the United States is imported, and depending on the time of the year, up to 60 percent of fresh produce is imported. ERS also estimated that about 16 percent of all food eaten in the United States is imported.
Reports like this one by the CDC have made me a more cautious shopper in the past several years. I always check the label to see where the food was packaged or processed. Whenever possible, I avoid buying imported foods from emerging countries that probably have poor food safety standards. I am particularly cautious about foods from China given their recent track record of food safety disasters. Imported foods are cheaper but the health risks are not worth the money savings.
Here in the Northwest, we have ready access to fresh local fish and shellfish. When I shop for seafood in the Seattle area, I ask the fishmongers where the food came from. So, next time you buy seafood, ask about its home waters. And when I want to be absolutely sure my seafood is fresh and handled properly, I go to Puget Sound and catch it myself.