The U.S. Senate is focused on healthcare reform, but if legislators want to save 5,000 lives and prevent 325,000 unnecessary and expensive hospitalizations each year, they should fix food safety too, according to the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest. Chances that the Senate will act this year on legislation that would reform the nation’s outdated food safety laws got a boost with a key hearing held on the topic.

“Consumers would rather pay at the check-out counter for safer foods than at the emergency room,” said CSPI food safety director Caroline Smith DeWaal, who testified before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. “In fact, unsafe foods pose a huge burden both to individuals and society at large, with estimates of the financial toll ranging from $40 billion to well over $100 billion annually. Outbreaks over the last few years are the clear consequence of an antiquated legal system that limits the Food and Drug Administration’s ability to ensure the safety of the food supply.”

Senators are considering the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (S. 510), sponsored by Assistant Senate Majority Leader Richard Durbin (D-IL). Like legislation passed in July by the House, S. 510 requires that food processors register with the government periodically, implement food safety plans and meet performance standards, and verify the food they import complies with U.S. law.

While CSPI urges the Committee to move the bill forward to passage, CSPI also asked on behalf of the Make Our Food Safe coalition that the bill is amended to require more frequent and risk-based inspection of food processing facilities. The bill should also require more microbial testing for pathogens and other contaminants, as well as require government-to-government certification to help assure the safety of imports.

Many in the food industry support FDA reform legislation also. Besides CSPI, representatives from the Food Marketing Institute and the United Fresh Produce Association testified at the Senate hearing.

“It is rare to see the level of consensus reflected among such diverse consumer and industry organizations on the need to fix our national food safety system,” DeWaal testified. “Congress can, with simple changes, take action this year to make food safer for American consumers.”

The hearing comes on the heels of a CSPI report detailing the ten riskiest foods regulated by the FDA. That list that included a number of healthy foods that the group recommends Americans should be consuming more of, like leafy greens, tomatoes, and berries.

Despite the outbreaks linked to those products, CSPI’s advice to consumers remains the same: Eat your veggies. “Just wash them first, and ask your Senators to reform the FDA,” DeWaal said.