The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

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FDA’s 2008 Food Protection Progress Report

FDA’s 2008 Food Protection Progress Report

Food Safety Update

December 28, 2008

The FDA made significant progress in protecting the food supply following the release of their Food Protection Plan last year, says a recent report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. According to the report, there have been noteworthy accomplishments in the implementation of the plan’s three core strategies: the prevention of outbreaks of food-borne disease, intervention if they occur, and subsequent response.

This should be welcome news for consumers, who have found their confidence in the safety of the American food supply slipping. In fact, per a recent Consumer Reports National Research Center poll, only a small majority of Americans (54%) feel the government is doing all it can to ensure food safety.

Launched in December 2007, the FDA Food Protection Plan is designed to address such food safety concerns and cover the entire supply chain. While American consumers enjoy one of the safest food supplies in the world, new food sources, the growing volume of imports, and advances in production and distribution methods have made this new approach crucial.

Since the launch of the program, in terms of prevention, the FDA reports to actively expanding measures both domestically and on a global scale. Domestically, the FDA released the CARVER self-assessment tool for industry – a tool that helps minimize the risk of intentional contamination – and trained industry on how to use it. The FDA also approved the use of irradiation of iceberg lettuce and spinach for the control of pathogens.

Internationally, in addition to sending a delegation to China to address global food safety issues in both countries, the FDA began establishing and staffing offices in China, India, Europe, Latin American and the Middle East. To address concerns about imports further, the agency developed methods to detect melamine and cyranuric acid. They started using genetic analysis to identify hundreds of Salmonella strains in imported seafood too.

When it comes to intervention, the FDA reports to completing inspections of 5,930 high-risk domestic food establishments in 2008. A pilot program for inspection and sampling of high-risk companies was launched as well. Meanwhile, the agency developed improved methods of dealing with feed concerns, including a guidance report on voluntary third-party certification, and an expanded database on adverse feed events.

Lastly, in the realm of response, the FDA signed cooperative agreements with several states to form a Rapid Response Team to react more rapidly to potential food supply threats. Throughout 2008, the FDA continued to work to identify best practices for tracing fresh produce throughout the supply chain, enhanced the agency’s ability to coordinate comprehensive response to foodborne illness, and removed products that were potentially contaminated (like milk-derived Chinese products) from the shelves.

Stephanie Kwisnek, spokesperson for the FDA, says that the FDA Food Protection Plan is succeeding on many levels. Through the use of science and modern information technology, the program has helped to prevent outbreaks before they occur, enhanced intervention methods and strengthened the ability to respond immediately when problems arise. She says that the program has also helped raise awareness about food defense and preparedness.

One notable achievement that Kwisnek mentions is the “Gateway to Food Protection – FDA Federal, State and Local Partners National Meeting” that was held in St. Louis, Missouri in August. This meeting brought together stakeholders to discuss food safety collaborations and implementation of the Food Protection Plan and also focused on building partnerships between federal, state, and local food safety regulators. On the international front, another notable achievement has been the FDA’s implementation of its landmark China Agreement.

“The Food Protection Plan is helping the FDA to improve communications to consumers, industry, and other regulatory agencies,” Kwisnek says. “In 2009, the FDA will continue to focus on improving its relationship with its local, state and foreign partners."