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Foodborne Illness and the Struggle for Food Safety

Foodborne illness is a big problem. Wash those chicken breasts, and you’re likely to spread Salmonella to your countertops, kitchen towels, and other foods nearby. Even salad greens can become biohazards when toxic strains of E. coli inhabit the water used to irrigate crops. All told, contaminated food causes 48 million illnesses, 128,000 hospitalizations, and 3,000 deaths each year in the United States.
With Outbreak, Timothy D. Lytton provides an up-to-date history and analysis of the US food safety system. He pays particular attention to important but frequently overlooked elements of the system, including private audits and liability insurance.

Lytton chronicles efforts dating back to the 1800s to combat widespread contamination by pathogens such as E. coli and salmonella that have become frighteningly familiar to consumers. Over time, deadly foodborne illness outbreaks caused by infected milk, poison hamburgers, and tainted spinach have spurred steady scientific and technological advances in food safety. Nevertheless, problems persist. Inadequate agency budgets restrict the reach of government regulation. Pressure from consumers to keep prices down constrains industry investments in safety. The limits of scientific knowledge leave experts unable to assess policies’ effectiveness and whether measures designed to reduce contamination have actually improved public health. Outbreak offers practical reforms that will strengthen the food safety system’s capacity to learn from its mistakes and identify cost-effective food safety efforts capable of producing measurable public health benefits.

384 pages | 11 line drawings, 2 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2019

Food and Gastronomy

Law and Legal Studies: General Legal Studies

Political Science: American Government and Politics


"Outbreak is immensely valuable not only for scholars of food law and food safety but also for those interested in the broader fields of regulatory and administrative law."

Diana R. H. Winters | Journal of Legal Medicine

"In Outbreak, Lytton gives us a legal scholar’s superb analysis of how government, lawyers, and civil society are struggling to prevent the tragic and unnecessary illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths caused by microbial food contaminants. Foodborne illness may seem like an intractable problem, but Lytton’s suggestions for dealing with it are well worth attention, as is everything else in this beautifully written, thoughtful, and readable account. I couldn’t put it down."

Marion Nestle

“A remarkable sweeping overview and evaluation of food safety practices that well serves both experts working in the field and members of the general public interested in the problem of food safety. Lytton shows how major outbreaks have prompted a variety of changes to reduce the risk of foodborne illness. Yet, as he argues persuasively, we don’t have firm scientific knowledge as to the degree to which—if at all—most of these measures have actually achieved their goal.”

Stephen Sugarman, UC Berkeley School of Law

“From swill milk to HACCP to FSMA to Blockchain, Lytton weaves a compelling biological story of how we feed ourselves and the interplay between the supply chain, regulation, media, and civil litigation.”

William D. Marler, Esq., The Food Safety Law Firm

"This book fills a critical gap, weaving the history of public health, regulatory agencies, and the food industry together with issues of immediate concern today. It is an innovative perspective that captures the complexity of the system beyond the scientific report or published regulation. The book should be of interest to students and practitioners of public health and food science and anyone interested in making food reliably safe."

Emerging Infectious Diseases

"Lytton seeks to shine a light into some of the more dimly lit corners of the U.S. food system’s safety checks and balances...the book provides a history and analysis of the country’s food safety system. Lytton gives particular attention to business-to-business elements in the U.S.system, including private audits and liability insurance."

Coral Beach | Food Safety News

"There is plenty of sage advice for the fresh produce industry in the pages of Timothy D. Lytton’s latest book."

Azzule Systems Blog

"Outbreak: Foodborne Illness and the Struggle for Food Safety is necessary reading for anyone in the produce industry (or any other) who has anything to do with food safety."

Produce Blue Book

Table of Contents

1          Trouble in the Fields: An Introduction to the Food Safety System
2          The Gospel of Clean Milk: Dairy Sanitation, Pasteurization, and the Origins of the American Food Safety System
3          Canned Foods under Pressure: HACCP and the Dynamics of Food Safety Reform
4          Building a Better Burger: How Media Coverage and Civil Litigation Facilitate Policy Change
5          Making Salad Safe Again: GAPs and the Complex Network Structure of Food Safety Governance
6          Bean Counting: The Challenges of Assessing Food Safety Efforts
7          From Fork to Farm: Honing the Tools of Outbreak Investigation
8          Recipes for Reform: Supporting Evidence-Based Food Safety Governance and Improving Private Oversight
9          Food for Thought: Reflections on Complexity, Uncertainty, and Evolution

Appendix A: How Researchers Estimate the Number of Cases and Economic Costs of Foodborne Illness
Appendix B: Legal Doctrines Governing Liability for Foodborne Illness and Litigation Dynamics
Appendix C: The Origins of Third-Party Food Safety Auditing in the United States
Appendix D: The Politics behind the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement
List of Abbreviations
Timeline of Significant Events


American Bar Association: Silver Gavel Awards

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