Last week's recall of 36 million pounds of ground turkey served as a reminder that foodborne illness outbreaks are still a major problem for U.S. food suppliers and retailers. America's food supply may be overwhelmingly safe, but it's not 100% safe. An oversight or a mistake at a large processing facility can still lead to hundreds of people getting sick.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture remains in charge of inspections at meat, poultry and egg facilities, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is responsible for ensuring the safety of most other foods. And in this week's Fresh Market section, Jenna Telesca takes a look at recent progress that the FDA has made with the Food Safety Modernization Act.
It is encouraging to hear food industry leaders praising the agency for its transparency and willingness to work cooperatively with businesses and other organizations during this process. The Food Marketing Institute, for example, worked with FDA to help develop an improved food recall website for consumers. It allows concerned shoppers to view recent recalls on a simple chart, search for recalls, and view scanned photos of product labels from recalled items.
And, FDA has been paying close attention to the Produce Traceability Initiative, a joint effort by leading produce industry groups to implement electronic traceability throughout the supply chain. During product recalls, this would make traceback efforts significantly faster and more targeted.
During a June 28 press conference, Bryan Silbermann, president and CEO of the Produce Marketing Association, said of recent talks with FDA leaders, “The kinds of collaborative dialogue that we had, are so critical to government, industry and the public. … These are real exchanges of information and ideas aimed at finding solutions to achieve the government's public health goals.”
Challenges remain. As this page noted recently, it is disappointing to see the already underfunded agency get its budget cut by $87 million while it is working to overhaul a problematic system. Those cuts could have a big impact on FDA's ability to enhance its inspection of seafood imports, for example — an area where oversight is sorely lacking.
But, the FDA's decision to work with trade groups and study safety initiatives that were already in progress is a good indication that the FSMA is still on the right track.