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New measures address safe handling of eggs
The Food and Drug Administration is proposing to require the following statements on labels of shell eggs that have not been treated to destroy Salmonella: “SAFE HANDLING INSTRUCTIONS: Eggs may contain harmful bacteria known to cause serious illness, especially in children, the elderly, and persons with weakened immune systems. For your protection: keep eggs refrigerated; cook eggs until yolks are firm; and cook foods containing eggs thoroughly before eating.” FDA is also proposing to require that retail establishments store and display shell eggs under refrigeration at 7.2ºC (45ºF) or lower. These actions complement FSIS regulations requiring that shell eggs be stored and transported at a temperature of 7.2ºC or lower and that the consumer containers of shell eggs be labeled to indicate that refrigeration is required. Deadline for comments is Sept. 20. Details are in the Federal Register of July 6 (64 FR 36491-36516 and 36516-36539). For more information, contact G.A. June (phone 202-205-5099) or C. Nardinelli (202-205-8702) at FDA, 200 C St., S.W., Washington, DC 20204. In addition, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service has issued a directive, effective Aug. 27, applying its egg refrigeration requirement to warehouses and other distribution locations that store consumer containers of shell eggs, including transport vehicles. And the President’s Council on Food Safety plans to develop by November 1 a strategic plan to further improve the safety of shell eggs and processed egg products.
President announces measures to restrict importation of unsafe food
President Clinton on July 3 announced several new measures to prevent food importers from bringing unsafe food into the United States. The U.S. Depts. of Health and Human Services and Treasury will (1) prevent importers whose cargo is denied entry at one port from trying to introduce the unsafe food at another port; (2) require the destruction of imported food that poses a serious public health threat; and (3) increase the bond that importers must post, as a way to deter illegal imports of unsafe food. The President will call for passage of a comprehensive imported food safety bill which would increase FDA’s authority to prevent unsafe food from ever reaching our borders.
Import alert expanded to include milk-containing products from Belgium
FDA on June 23 expanded its June 11 import alert on egg-containing products from Belgium to include milk-containing products such as cheese. The import alert recommends detention of products at ports of entry until importers provide laboratory test results showing the shipments are free of detectable levels of polychlorinated biphenyls and/or dioxins. The first import alert was issued shortly after FDA learned that fat used in animal feed manufactured and used in Europe was contaminated with PCBs and/or dioxins in a one-time incident in January 1999. Food-producing animals may have consumed the feed resulting in potentially contaminated food products. (See this month’s Back Page column for more information). The initial import alert listed eggs, products containing eggs and game meats from Belgium, France, and the Netherlands, and all animal feeds including animal-derived medicated and nonmedicated feeds, feed ingredients, and pet foods from all European countries. This extension adds milk and milk-containing products from Belgium. FDA will continue to provide updates to this information at its CFSAN Web site under the heading “Chemical Contaminants” (http://vm.cfsan.fda.gov/~lrd/pestadd.html).
FDA advises against consuming raw sprouts
FDA on July 9 advised all persons to be aware of the risks associated with eating raw sprouts (e.g., alfalfa, clover, radish) because of increasing numbers of illnesses associated with their consumption. These illnesses have involved Salmonella and Escherichia coli O157. Alfalfa and clover sprouts have been involved most often, but all raw sprouts may pose a risk. FDA plans to issue national guidance to the industry that will focus on microbial testing, sanitation, seed quality, and seed treatment strategies with appropriate performance standards; send investigators to sprout facilities to test water used to grow sprouts (spent irrigation water, a good measure of microbial contamination) for Salmonella and E. coli O157; increase surveillance of sprouting facilities and monitor the extent of industry adoption of FDA’s recommended production practices; and monitor the safety of sprouts and take further actions, including preventive controls, as necessary to protect consumers.
Billy appointed chairman of Codex Alimentarius Commission
Thomas J. Billy, administrator of USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, was elected on June 29 to a two-year term as chairman of the Codex Alimentarius Commission. Billy will remain administrator of FSIS during his tenure as chairman. Established in 1962, the Commission is the major international organization responsible for protecting the health and economic interests of consumers, developing international food standards, and encouraging fair international trade in food. Billy served as vice chairman of the Commission for two years and has also served as national coordinator and U.S. delegate to the Commission.
by NEIL H. MERMELSTEIN