Food Fears: How Safe Is Your Dinner?

After reports of tainted pet food, toothpaste and now seafood from China, consumers are growing more concerned about where their food comes from.

A little more than 1 percent of the imported food coming into the United States is inspected, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department, down from 8 percent in 1992. Only 85 full-time inspectors monitor the 6.6 million tons of seafood the United States imports annually.

Some lawmakers are placing the blame on the Food and Drug Administration, saying the agency hasn't done enough to keep contaminated food out of the country.

The recent discovery of toothpaste from China containing an industrial poison has prompted the FDA to place China's imports to the United States under a microscope. One-third of U.S. food imports come from China.

This includes half of the country's garlic, 40 percent of its apple juice and 80 percent of its vitamin C.

"China's regulatory program isn't really ready for the 21st century," said Caroline Smith DeWaal of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "They're a global player, but they're not ready for it yet."

The increased concern started with the contaminated pet food that killed dozens of animals and injured thousands after they were fed a toxic chemical used to make plastics. The chemical was traced to wheat gluten imported from China.

A warning about contaminated seafood, some with salmonella, followed. It also included ingredients consumers may have never considered.

"Antibiotic residues that are used to eliminate diseases in the fish farms — these antibiotics are illegal if they were used in the U.S.," Smith DeWaal said.

Then, using a hidden camera, China Central Television found manufacturers using cardboard in place of meat stuffing for buns.

The Chinese are taking food and drug safety seriously. The former head of the country's food safety was executed after he was found guilty of accepting bribes to overlook a dangerous situation.

China isn't the only nation getting increased scrutiny.

The FDA has rejected shipments of diseased crab meat from Indonesia, salmonella-infested shrimp from Thailand and contaminated tuna from Vietnam.

Consumers can check the fine print on foods to see the nation of origin, but the FDA is cautioning people not to panic over imports. It cited that three of the biggest food scares in the last year were domestic, including spinach, lettuce and peanut butter.

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PHOTO: Josh Shaw watches a news conference for USCs football coach Steve Sarkisian in Los Angeles, Calif. on Dec. 3, 2013.
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