For many purveyors of fresh foods, 2011 was a two steps forward, one step back type of year. Progress is being made on goals including enhanced food safety systems, seafood sustainability and better nutrition programs for kids and adults, but, there were also setbacks.
Supermarkets have continued to find new ways to offer their customers ideas that help them save money by cooking at home. Unfortunately, after two years of calm, 2011 saw the return of significant food price inflation, pushing up the cost of meat, poultry, dairy, eggs, seafood, fruits, vegetables and other foods.
In January, President Obama signed the Food Safety Modernization Act into law, paving the way for sweeping changes in the way the U.S. Food and Drug Administration oversees the safety of foods and production facilities in the U.S. Progress has already been made toward implementing a system focused on prevention, but these newly appointed powers could not prevent the country’s most fatal foodborne illness outbreak in a quarter century from claiming 31 lives.
And, the launch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s new “MyPlate” icon has given nutritionists and educators a great new tool to explain healthy diets in simple terms, but there’s still a long road ahead for those working to turn the tide in the fight against childhood obesity.
These challenges will demand continued attention in the coming year, but the future is bright for an industry whose goal is a healthy, safe, sustainable food supply.
FDA Implements Food Safety Modernization Act
By ROSEANNE HARPER
Since President Obama signed the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011 on January 4 this year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has increased its communication with other agencies and stakeholders, in an attempt to prevent foodborne illness, and to stop an outbreak quickly if one should occur.
FDA Commissioner Hamburg told SN in an earlier interview that communication and transparency are top priorities.
“First under FSMA, FDA was required to provide a consumer-friendly recall search engine within 90 days after the law went into effect,” Hamburg said.
“In April, we launched a new consumer-friendly web search for recall information. Now, recall information is displayed in a table format instead of a text format. The table organizes information from news releases on recalls since 2009 by date, product brand name, product description, reason for the recall, and the recalling firm.”
Hamburg also underscored the fact that “FSMA is based on a vision of food safety as a system of prevention which requires integration of federal, state, tribal, and local food safety agencies,” adding that FDA has been at work on those goals.
“We have regular calls with state agencies in all 50 states to share information,” she said. “When our own FDA scientists did ground-breaking work that showed an animal drug left a carcinogenic residue in chicken meat, we shared that information with our partners at the [U.S.] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Agriculture so we could all work together with the company involved and the chicken industry to stop the sale of the product from the marketplace in a timely but responsible way.”
Hamburg said the close and quick communication between agencies right down to county and municipal health departments is crucial in preventing an outbreak of food borne illness.
The agency’s response this fall in the wake of a listeria outbreak caused by contaminated cantaloupes is an example of how inter-agency cooperation will work.
Speaking this fall at the 14th annual National Food Policy Conference, Hamburg told her audience how very important the cooperation between agencies was in trace-back and response during the recent outbreak.
“We’ve been collaborating closely with the CDC, along with our local and state partners in Colorado. Once the bacteria was linked with whole cantaloupes in early September, we worked to conduct a product trace back, and very quickly identified the matching outbreak strains in samples collected at Jensen Farms in Colorado. Then, in concert with the company, a voluntary recall was quickly instituted,” Hamburg told the conference attendees.
Even as she spoke, FDA had pre-emptive measures underway elsewhere.
In random checks, FDA had found listeria in bagged chopped romaine from California ranch, which resulted in prompt removal of the contaminated products from the market and launched an investigation.
Part of FDA’s responsibility, too, is making sure foreign imports of food are safe, Hamburg emphasized in an earlier interview with SN.
With that responsibility high on her to-do list, she has met with food safety counterparts from China and other key countries.
Most recently FDA has struck up a partnership with Canada to modernize food safety. Michael Taylor, FDA deputy commissioner for foods, led a delegation to Ottawa this fall to meet with officials from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Health Canada.