James N. Klapthor

If you regularly log onto the IFT Web site and read the Daily News posted there, or if you subscribe to IFT’s electronic Weekly Newsletter, it’s likely that you’ve read the perspective and predictions of IFT editors on food science issues that may arise in 2007. This is becoming an annual endeavor of IFT’s Web editors to provide their scientific and lay opinions on topics that could greatly affect IFT members.

IFT Food Science Communicator and committee chair Don Schaffner provided the same service in January to audiences interested in regulatory affairs who read Food Chemical News. In its January 8 article addressing the presumed priorities of the Food and Drug Administration during the coming year, FCN attributed to Schaffner a statement that produce safety would be a predictable target of heightened interest.

"Clearly, if you look at the [September 2006] spinach outbreak, which was just huge in terms of its impact on the news media and impact on public health, that took a lot of FDA attention," Schaffner said. "Then you add in the tomato outbreak, and then this most recent Taco Bell outbreak . . . all of these were really big news items, and all came within a short window of time here. Produce safety is going to have to be a big one on FDA’s radar."

On the same topic of produce safety, IFT Food Science Communicators Mike Doyle, Christine Bruhn, and Linda Harris supplied opinions for the Los Angeles Times January 20 article on produce processing and the spread of Escherichia coli O157:H7. In the context that processors distributing ready-to-eat packaged salads nationally are faced with the threat of possible foodborne illness outbreaks caused by even one head of contaminated lettuce getting commingled into multiple bags of product, Doyle said, "I quit eating bagged lettuce years ago. After seeing how bagged lettuce was harvested and prepared, my impression was it’s not very sanitary."

The newspaper relied on Bruhn for an opposing viewpoint. She opined that buying bagged, pre-washed greens is safer than buying head or loose lettuce and washing it at home. "Most of us don’t do triple washing in chlorinated water," she said in support of current processing techniques. "Do they [consumers] scrub the sink with cleanser then sanitize it with a bleach solution before they start their washing? Do they thoroughly wash their hands with a brush, getting under their fingernails and using a clean towel to dry?"

Regardless of the effectiveness of current techniques, Harris pointed toward progress as the only viable option available to produce companies. "The industry needs to reinvent itself," she said. "What can be done in the field and in the processing unit? Today we don’t have all the answers, but look back at the beef industry 10 years ago. It didn’t either."

The Los Angeles Times is the fourth-largest—and one of the most influential—newspapers in the nation, circulating about 1 million copies a day.

During this same month, the two most recent IFT Expert Reports were influencing news coverage of regulatory affairs affecting functional foods and antimicrobial resistance in food animals.

The January 12 issue of FDA Week published an article on functional foods and corporate fears that European regulations would drive some companies out of business. The article noted that a petition submitted to FDA by the American Association for Health Freedom and its European affiliate, the Alliance for Natural Health, urged the agency to consider the recommendation of IFT’s 2005 Expert Report to establish a Generally Recognized As Efficacious expert panel to review functional food health claims.

The publication also noted two other topics regarding functional food health claims where these groups were advocating IFT’s Export Report conclusions.

One week later, FDA Week updated its readers on pending congressional legislation to ban the use of some antibiotics in animal feed. The article noted prominently that IFT’s Expert Report on antimicrobial resistance, issued in 2006, stated succinctly that such actions may have little or no positive effect on resistant bacteria that threaten human health.

by James N. Klapthor,
Media Relations Manager
[email protected]