Jeff Almer of Savage, Minn., testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2009, before the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations hearing to examine the recent salmonella outbreak associated with peanut products. His mother, mother, 72-year-old Shirley Mae Almer, shown in a family photo, died after eating tainted peanut butter.

Feed Loader, Star Tribune

Franken: New food safety law will save lives

  • Article by: ABBY SIMONS
  • Star Tribune
  • January 9, 2011 - 12:31 AM

Jeff Almer acknowledges that his crusade to avenge his mother's death from eating tainted peanut butter probably will never be complete.

But the Savage man, who has made food safety a personal cause since his mother died two years ago, said one of his chief goals -- a food safety bill signed into law by President Obama last week -- is a start.

"Can anyone believe we trust the food on our plate with laws created 72 years ago?" said Almer, who has lobbied Congress for passage of the bill since his mother died. "I've met too many people who needed this legislation enacted years ago."

Almer, along with Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., and others, stood in the middle of a bustling Lunds grocery store Saturday in northeast Minneapolis to laud Tuesday's signing of the Food Safety Modernization Act, which even before it was signed has set in motion measures to improve food safety in the wake of seemingly common foodborne illness scares resulting from tainted food. It's the first large-scale food safety measure signed into law since 1938.

Case in point: Almer's mother, Shirley Mae Almer, who beat brain cancer only to die Dec. 21, 2008, of salmonella poisoning after she ate a piece of toast with tainted peanut butter from Peanut Corp. of America. More than 700 people were sickened, and nine, including Almer's mother, died.

The law directs the Food and Drug Administration to build a new system of oversight for farm-raised foods similar to FDA standards for seafood and eggs and U.S. Department of Agriculture standards for meat and dairy. The FDA will receive mandatory safety plans from companies and be able to properly ensure that those plans are followed through on. The law also will allow for mandatory FDA inspections of facilities based on risk.

The law also enhances the FDA's ability to inspect foods shipped from overseas; about 15 percent of the U.S. food supply is imported.

An example of those standards, lauded by Franken, who worked on the bill, are those put in place to enable tracing food more accurately and quickly in the event of an outbreak. The traceability provision mandates that processors must have on record where their food came from and where it was sent. That "common sense" provision will speed up pulling recalled foods from grocery store shelves and "save lives," Franken said.

The new law is widely supported by consumer, agriculture and other groups. Franken said it also will protect growers from "tremendous waste" and the loss of millions of dollars when foods are mistakenly recalled. He cited a 2008 salmonella outbreak that resulted in a major tomato recall when jalapenos were the culprit.

Unsafe food kills 3,000 people annually and sickens 76 million others. It's a $152 billion drain on the economy, Franken said.

The law is "just good policy," he said. "It's gonna save folks all the way down the chain a whole bunch of money, and a whole bunch of heartache. Too many Americans become ill and too many die, as Jeff's mom did, from food safety problems that we can prevent."

Almer said that although the bill was weakened before its passage, he's pleased it made it past a number of roadblocks.

He noted that it was passed in the House on Dec. 21, 2010 -- the second anniversary of his mother's death.

"I know she had a positive part in this that can never be taken away," he said.

Abby Simons • 612-673-4921

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