by Jeff McShan

HOUSTON—It’s estimated that food poisoning causes about 76 million illnesses and sends 325,000 people to the hospital every year. And about 5,000 people die yearly because of something they ate.

Earlier this month all cans of pre-mixed Slim Fast meals were voluntarily pulled from shelves after the manufacturer learned its dietary shakes were found to have a bacteria.
“In my perspective a recall is a good thing. That means that somebody is paying attention and somebody is calling it back as opposed to an outbreak. If you have an outbreak, somebody dropped the ball,” said Jay Neal.  Professor Neal teaches food safety at the University of Houston.
The Food and Drug Administration says Slim Fast should be commended because more often than not people must get really sick, and sometimes even die before something is done.
Take the case involving Kyle Allgood, a 2-year-old boy from Idaho, who died after eating contaminated spinach in a smoothie.
Shirley Almer, a grandmother from Minnesota, died from salmonella poisoning that was found in peanut butter.
And then there’s the tragic story of Stephanie Smith. The dancer is now paralyzed because she ate a hamburger that had a foodborne illness.
Professor Neal says one of the problems today is that the food we eat tonight might have been in California or even China a few days ago.
“Now if the temperature is controlled we are in good shape, but anything can happen along the way,” said Neal.
Across America, many people are now filing civil lawsuits against restaurants and others because something they ate made them sick.
Attorney Hugh Plummer represents a Houston victim and told us, “He ordered some chicken wings. The third one he bit into was frozen. The chicken had not been cooked. That evening he became very ill and had to be rushed to a hospital.”
The lawsuit alleges negligence, claiming the restaurant failed to properly prepare the food it served.
“The public has the expectancy that they are going to be safe when they go in and have something to eat,” Plummer said.
Neal says more emphasis is now being placed on food safety.  Neal said, “My role is to start teaching my students that so they can take on this responsibility in their restaurants when they graduate. I really think that’s the key in behavior. It’s just the way of doing business. Not, ‘oh the health department is going to catch me so I have to do it right.’”
In the meantime Congress is considering passing a food safety bill, and the FDA says it wants more money to hire more food inspectors.