Beat the Clock to Make Food Safer

11/23/2010 10:35 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

It's Thanksgiving week, when food and football take center stage in homes across America.

Food has been center stage in Congress lately, too. And football provides a pretty decent metaphor for the story of the food safety bill that's advancing up the field on Capitol Hill.

Following the recent outbreaks of deadly E. coli and salmonella in eggs, lettuce, and peanut butter, lawmakers have been huddled up, trying to come up with a game plan to attack the problem. They have produced a good bill that would crack down on unsafe conditions at food processing plants and raise standards for safety.

Congress is right on the cusp of approving the bill, just a few yards shy of a touchdown to win the game. This is one of those all-too-rare contests where many Republicans and Democrats are actually playing on the same team, working together in support of the bill.

But we can't do a victory dance just yet. Time is ticking down as Congress prepares to adjourn for the year. If the clock runs out and lawmakers exit without sending a bill to the President, the game's over, and we lose a golden opportunity to fix a badly broken system.

Congress gets the chance to make a sweeping improvement in food safety about as often as the average team gets to play for the national championship. This is a much-needed piece of legislation that will help protect us from dangerous contaminated food, and it deserves to make it into the end zone before lawmakers leave the arena.

The stakes couldn't be higher. Every year, contaminated food sickens 76 million Americans, sends 325,000 of us to the hospital, and kills 5,000 people. Those of us who are most at risk are young children, the elderly, and people whose immune systems are weak from disease or treatments like chemotherapy.

When you look at the recent outbreaks of food contamination, it's clear that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is hamstrung by outdated laws, weak authority, and poor resources.

To address these problems, the House has passed one bill, and now the Senate needs to pass its own bill, which is in the middle of debate. Then the House and Senate have to go back to the huddle to come up with a final version of the bill and toss it to the White House for the President to sign into law before the end of the year.

If you want to get in the game, contact your senators now and tell them to vote "yes" for the food safety bill, which is scheduled to come up for a vote on the Monday after Thanksgiving. You can learn more at and help score a big win for safer food.