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2011 Power 50: No. 50 Margaret Hamburg

Margaret Hamburg makes sure she bases what she does on a foundation of facts. Reaching out for information from various divisions of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, other agencies and outside sources helped her clarify what was needed at FDA when she was appointed commissioner. Now, she's once again gathering facts as she focuses on the implementation of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act.

FSMA, signed into law earlier this year, places emphasis on preventing foodborne illness outbreaks.

“First, we need to reach out to all of our food safety stakeholders to learn from their experiences, and gain from their knowledge,” Hamburg told SN.

She stressed the complexity of coordinating information and strategies to accomplish the task ahead.

“As we implement FSMA, we need to keep in mind that each element — preventive controls, a produce safety rule, new enforcement and compliance authorities such as mandatory recall and suspension of registration, new responsibilities for importers to assure the safety of their products, improved coordination with our federal, state, tribal and local partners — must be put in place to work with all the other pieces.”

To accomplish this, Hamburg worked to create “cross-cutting implementation teams that bring together in real time the expertise needed from various FDA offices and divisions.”

The agency also has held three public meetings on key provisions of FSMA, the most recent on June 6. The meetings have been well received, with each having more than 500 stakeholders in attendance, either in person or via webcast, Hamburg said.

Recognizing the challenges inherent in a global food supply chain, Hamburg has initiated an FDA strategy that will ease the task of gathering and sharing data. Indeed, the agency recently released a report, “Pathway to Global Product Safety and Quality,” that outlines a plan designed to protect the quality of the food supply and to prevent foodborne illnesses.

And, the FDA's Office of Foods — created by Hamburg soon after her appointment — will soon announce “an improved and better-coordinated approach to the way we respond to outbreaks of foodborne illness,” Hamburg said.

On FSMA, Hamburg said, “We needed a mandate to base food safety on prevention … but our ability to complete the transformation will be constrained by the resources we are given. What is important, though, is to keep focused on the big picture of a whole new food safety system that seeks to prevent problems, rather than chasing after them.”

In addition to its focus on FSMA, FDA continues to look at expanding the availability of nutrition information. For example, the agency has proposed rules that will provide consumers with nutrition information for standard menu items at chain restaurants.

“It's important that consumers have nutrition information so they can make choices. That's also why we continue to work on updating the Nutrition Facts label and on front-of-package labeling,” Hamburg said.