In my grandfather’s childhood in rural Arkansas, most of the food that he ate and the clothes that he wore were produced at home. His ancestors had built their own houses and furniture for generations, and store-bought goods were rare and expensive. While people knew little about foodborne illnesses and other hazards, they knew where the food and other products in their lives came from.
Such is not the case today. Our plates are filled with Indian rice, Honduran bananas, Japanese fish, or American wheat. We buy shirts from Mexico, cars from Germany, shoes from Italy, or electronics from China. Imported consumer goods are only as safe as the governments and producers in their country of origin require. A report in the New York Times stated,
“Nearly two-thirds of the fruits and vegetables and 80 percent of the seafood eaten in the United States now come from abroad. Half of the medical devices and 80 percent of the active ingredients in medications sold here are also made elsewhere, often in countries whose regulatory systems and manufacturing standards are weak.”
Chinese tilapia, cod, apple juice, mushrooms, and garlic are considered dangerous. Indian pharmaceutical manufacturers have been selling fake medications and falsifying laboratory results. US inspectors examine only a small fraction of the foreign-made products coming into America. Many nations are trying to improve the quality of their products, but hazards abound.
American food, water, and consumer products are much safer than in the past, and manufacturing processes are better. Local, state, and federal government agencies regulate everything from alfalfa to zucchini, and this helps to keep US producers vigilant for customer safety. However, America is not immune to homegrown food borne disease outbreaks and unsafe products. Consumers must report unsafe products to manufacturers and government agencies.
Most Americans have experience with unsafe food and other products. I have included a recent case below.