FDA unveils new plan for food safety

Dec. 6, 2007
The FDA puts emphasis on risk, prevention, third-party inspections and recall authority.

“American consumers have one of the safest food supplies in the world, but the world is changing and we know it can be safer,” began FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach. Eschenbach and Tevi Troy, deputy secretary of the Dept. of Health and Human Services, together unveiled “Food Protection Plan -- An integrated strategy for protecting the nation's food supply,” on Nov. 6.

Eschenbach said the agency is trying to become proactive, focusing on areas of highest perceived risk and promising to move faster to stop outbreaks and questionable imports.

And “increased corporate responsibility” was the first of the bullet points.
“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,” von Eschenbach continued. “The U.S. Food and Drug Administration must keep pace with these changes so that the safety of the nation's food supply remains second to none.”

The long awaited plan -- which addresses both food safety and food defense for domestic and imported human and animal products –“uses science and modern information technology to identify potential hazards ahead of time,” the announcement said.  The plan has three main points, each with sub-points:

1. Prevent food contamination by:

  • Promoting increased corporate responsibility to prevent foodborne illness
  • Identifying food vulnerabilities and assess risks
  • Expanding the understanding and use of effective mitigation measures.

2. Intervene at critical points in the food supply chain by:

  • Focusing inspections and sampling based on risk
  • Enhancing risk-bases surveillance
  • Improving the detection of food system “signals” that indicate contamination

3. Respond rapidly to minimize harm by:

  • Improving immediate response
  • Improving risk communications to the public, industry, and other stakeholders.

The plan also recommends legislative changes to strengthen FDA’s ability, including:

  • Authorizing the agency to issue additional preventive controls for high-risk foods
  • Requiring food facilities to renew their FDA registrations every two years
  • Authorizing FDA to accredit highly qualified third parties for voluntary food inspections
  • Requiring new re-inspection fees from facilities that fail to meeting current Good Manufacturing Practices
  • Authorizing FDA to require electronic import certificates for shipments of designated high-risk products
  • Empowering FDA to issue a mandatory recall of food products
  • Giving FDA enhanced access to food records during emergencies.

“While we are still reviewing the details of the FDA’s food safety proposal, it is clear that many of the elements are similar to the plan unveiled by GMA in September,” said Cal Dooley, president/CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Assn. “That proposal calls for a doubling of the FDA budget over the next five years, as well as for strengthening the food safety private-public partnership as the best way to modernize our nation’s food safety system and bolster consumer confidence in our food supply. We are pleased that the FDA is recommending the adoption of mandatory recall authority.”

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