As a physician and the Commissioner of Food and Drugs, protecting America’s food supply is extremely important to me.
American consumers have one of the safest food supplies in the world, but the world is changing, and we know it can be safer. New food sources, advances in production and distribution methods, and the growing volume of imports due to consumer demand call for a new approach to protecting our food from unintentional or deliberate contamination. The Food and Drug Administration must keep pace with these changes so that the safety of the nation’s food supply remains second to none.
In the past few years, FDA has introduced several initiatives that address microbial and other food safety hazards with domestic or imported produce and that guide industry practices in the safe production of fresh-cut fruits and vegetables. FDA has also worked hard to raise awareness about food defense issues and preparedness.
Recent nationwide recalls remind us how devastating foodborne illness can be. In the past year, contaminated peanut butter led to illnesses in more than 300 people and at least 50 hospitalizations. Contaminated spinach resulted in 206 illnesses, three deaths, and more than 100 people hospitalized. Reports of kidney failure and deaths in cats and dogs prompted a recall of more than 100 brands of pet food.
For every one of these emergencies, FDA responded immediately to minimize harm. FDA investigators traced each problem’s source and worked without delay to remove the affected products from market shelves. FDA staff continue to work diligently to protect our food supply, by containing outbreaks and preventing further illnesses.
FDA is implementing a Food Protection Plan that addresses both food safety and food defense for domestic and imported products. It iuses science and modern information technology to identify potential hazards ahead of time. By preventing most harm before it can occur, enhancing our intervention methods at key points in the food production system, and strengthening our ability to respond immediately when problems are identified, FDA can provide a food protection framework that keeps the American food supply safe.
The Plan operates through a set of integrated strategies that focus on risks over a product’s life cycle from production to consumption; target resources to achieve maximum risk reduction; address both unintentional and deliberate contamination; and use science and modern technology systems. It provides three elements of protection:
• Prevent Foodborne Contamination—promote increased corporate responsibility to prevent foodborne illnesses; identify food vulnerabilities and assess risks; and expand the understanding and use of effective mitigation measures.
• Intervene at Critical Points in the Food Supply Chain—focus inspections and sampling based on risk; enhance risk-based surveillance; and improve the detection of food system “signals” that indicate contamination.
• Respond Rapidly to Minimize Harm—improve immediate response; and improve risk communications to the public, industry, and other stakeholders.
FDA recognizes the need to partner with Congress to make the changes necessary to transform the safety of the nation’s food supply. This plan identifies the administrative actions we are proposing to take within the Agency. It also recommends legislative changes to FDA’s authority regarding those three elements:
• Prevention. Allow FDA to require preventive controls to prevent intentional adulteration by terrorists or criminals at points of high vulnerability in the food chain; authorize FDA to issue additional preventive controls for high-risk foods; require food facilities to renew their FDA registrations every two years, and allow FDA to modify the registration categories.
• Intervention. Authorize FDA to accredit highly qualified third parties for voluntary food inspections; require new reinspection fee from facilities that fail to meet current good manufacturing practices; authorize FDA to require electronic import certificates for shipments of designated high-risk products; and require new food and animal feed export certification fee to improve the ability of U.S. firms to export their products; and provide parity between domestic and imported foods if FDA inspection access is delayed, limited, or denied.
• Response. Empower FDA to issue a mandatory recall of food products when voluntary recalls are not effective; and give FDA enhanced access to food records during emergencies.
More information on FDA’s Food Protection Plan is available at www.fda.gov/oc/initiatives/advance/food.html .
by Andrew C. von Eschenbach, M.D., is Commissioner of Food and Drugs, Food and Drug Administration, 5600 Fisher’s Ln., Rockville, MD 20857 ([email protected]).