Recent outbreaks of Listeria in Colorado cantaloupes and salmonella contamination of eggs and lettuce in California and the Midwest are fueling the fires of controversy that have many asking about the safety of U.S. food products.

Add to that the growing number of Latin American imports of fruits and vegetables and widespread media coverage of food safety issues internationally, and it makes for an escalating crisis that has consumers, growers, packers and distributors on the same page when it comes identifying and correcting weak links in the U.S. food safety system.

But a close examination of recent food contamination reports may bring to light a more sobering conclusion. It appears that regardless how diligent and careful the food industry may strive to be, and in spite of new food safety regulations imposed by the FDA through the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), contamination of food products is an issue that refuses to go away.

“For one thing, the lofty goals of the FSMA may be for the good of all, but the law was created without any budget to support it,” says John McClung, President of the Texas Produce Association. “What good is a law or regulation that can’t be enforced?”

The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was signed into law by President Obama on January 4th, 2011. It aims to ensure the U.S. food supply is safe by shifting the focus of federal regulators from contamination response to one of prevention at the industry level. But critics like McClung argue food safety and contamination issues go beyond the farm and processing plant and require understanding and compliance all the way from the farm to the consumer’s kitchen. 

“Nearly a third of all food borne illness is caused by the consumer. They way food is handled and stored and washed and the way it is prepared or underprepared plays a major role in food safety, and while the food production industry must be responsible in minimizing the chance of contamination, the responsibility can not stop there,” McClung says.