GRANITE CITY -- U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin said potential funding cuts that would help the nation's budget would come at the expense of safe food.
On Friday, the Senate majority leader told a group of culinary students at Southwestern Illinois College Sam Wolf Granite City Campus that a House-supported proposal would undermine his and other lawmakers' efforts earlier this year by halting or delaying reforms that were part of the Food and Drug Administration Food Safety Modernization Act, which was signed into law in January.
"It's a step backwards at a time when we need more inspections," said Durbin, D-Springfield.
Durbin also said that if the funding cuts are sustained, the nation's food safety system would suffer "terrible consequences."
"We need to improve our nation's food safety system, not dismantle it," he said. "It is crucial that we provide the FDA with the resources it needs to keep our food safe."
Illinois Department of Public Health Regional Health Officer Marilyn Green said the recent outbreak of E. coli in the St. Louis region underscores why the FDA needs to ensure adequate personnel for food inspections. The first case of E. coli was reported last week and about two dozen more cases have followed. Green said two cases have been reported in St. Clair County.
Department spokeswoman Sabrina Miller said Friday that both metro-east patients are recovering.
Health officials are still investigating the source but do not believe it is isolated because similar outbreaks have been recently reported in North Carolina, Ohio, Michigan and New York. Earlier this week, officials began inspecting the salad bars at Schnucks supermarkets after many of those who were infected and later interviewed in St. Louis County said that had recently eaten food from there.
SWIC Culinary Arts Program Coordinator Leisa Brockman and her students attended Durbin's news conference Friday afternoon. She called the cutbacks "discouraging."
"I feel like food safety is the number one issue for culinary students or anybody in the hospitality industry because it can have such negative results if you're not careful," Brockman said.
Research from Durbin's office reveals that one of every six Americans, or 48 million people, become sick from preventable food-borne illnesses each year. Approximately 128,000 of those people are hospitalized and 3,000 die.