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Many foods are imported

If your goal is to eat only American-grown food, mark the apple juice, cauliflower, garlic and limes off your grocery list. University of Georgia food scientists say that the majority of these foods is imported.

In 2006, about 15 percent of the food consumed in the U.S. was imported. Almost 44 percent of the fruit and 16 percent of the vegetable supply were imported to the U.S. in 2005.

A variety is imported: Most apple juice, frozen cauliflower, garlic and limes consumed in the U.S. are imported. The apple juice and garlic come from China. The cauliflower and limes are courtesy of Mexico.

In 2008, 80 percent of fresh artichokes, 79.9 percent of fresh asparagus and 52.9 percent of fresh cucumbers in U.S. stores were imported.

Population growth and consumer demand for fresh produce year-round are the driving forces that increase imports.

Nuts and seafood, too: Almost half of all shelled nuts consumed by Americans are imported, according to a 2005 reported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The major countries exporting nuts are Vietnam, India, Mexico, Brazil and China.

And 80 percent of the seafood consumed in the U.S. is imported. The safety of these imported foods will be a growing concern in the future. The problem isn't where the food comes from, but how it's grown or processed before it reaches us.

Supply chains stretch overseas: The influx of imported food didn't happen overnight. Over the 1900s, America's food systems underwent dramatic changes and evolved into the very highly specialized and complex businesses that exist today. These changes have resulted in longer supply chains that often stretch past the borders of the U.S.

For example, a double-patty hamburger with cheese and sauce sold by a well-known national fast food chain has over 150 ingredients. Half of those ingredients could originate from outside the U.S.

Our food now comes from all corners of the globe, passes through many more hands and reaches our tables in many more forms than ever before. Likewise, the products that we grow and manufacture in Georgia are distributed all over the country and world and may end up as ingredients in literally tens of thousands of other products.

Improved detection methods needed: What can concerned Americans do? Solutions to today's food-safety issues will not come easy, according to Michael Doyle, head of the UGA Center for Food Safety. "They will require a major research commitment to developing state-of-the-art science methods to detect, control and eliminate harmful substances in foods."

UGA experts encourage consumers to wash produce thoroughly, cook meats to appropriate temperatures and keep kitchen utensils and countertops clean.

Web posted on Thursday, April 08, 2010

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