Draft guidance on food safety in the works

A new position – deputy commission for foods at the FDA is one of the changes proposed by the Food Safety Working Group, established in March. Another recommendation is the development of industry product tracing systems. In fact, the FDA will issue draft guidance within three months on steps the industry “can take to establish product tracing systems to improve our national capacity for detecting the origins of foodborne illness."

"This Working Group will bring together cabinet secretaries and senior officials to advise me on how we can upgrade our food safety laws for the 21st century; foster coordination throughout government; and ensure that we are not just designing laws that will keep the American people safe, but enforcing them," President Obama said in an address on March 14, reports Food Business News. "And I expect this group to report back to me with recommendations as soon as possible."

On July 1, the group submitted three "general principles" to the president that served as the basis for a series of specific recommendations. Preventing harm to consumers is the first priority — "The working group recommends that food regulators shift toward prioritizing prevention and move aggressively to implement sensible measures designed to prevent problems before they occur," the group said. Key to success will be establishing rigorous standards and giving "regulatory agencies the tools necessary" to ensure the food industry complies. Effective foods safety inspections and enforcement depend upon good data and analysis — "High quality information will help leading agencies know which foods are at risk, which solutions should be put into place and who should be responsible," the group said. Toward that end, the group said the government should prioritize "crucial inspection and enforcement activity across the world," support state and local safety efforts and use data to evaluate outcomes. Outbreaks of foodborne illness should be identified quickly and stopped — A food tracing system that shortens the time between outbreaks, detection resolution and recovery should be established. "It is in everyone’s interest for outbreaks to be rare in number, limited in scale and short in duration," the group said.

Elaborating, the group said the FDA. deputy commissioner for foods, reporting to the commissioner, "will be empowered to restructure and revitalize FDA’s activities and work with the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the USDA," and the position of chief medical officer at the FSIS will be created. Going forward, the working group will "serve as a mechanism to break down stovepipes, address cross-cutting issues and increase coordination activities across the U.S. government," the group said. The secretaries of the Department of Health and Human Services and the USDA will continue to head the group, and the Obama administration will work with Congress on legislation to give agencies the tools they need to "keep food safe." Many of the proposals already have been introduced in legislation.

"These tools include the ability to require sanitation and preventive controls at food facilities, based on a scientific hazard analysis; the ability to access basic food safety records at facilities; the ability to use resources flexibly to target food at the highest risk and achieve the maximum gain for public health; the ability to establish performance stands to measure the implementation of proper food safety procedures; and mandatory recall authority," the group said.