Industry News | February 2, 2009

Obama's Outlook on Food Safety

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Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) is strongly supporting President Obama’s call for a “complete review” of the nation’s food safety system. According to the group, the latest outbreak of Salmonella tied to peanut butter products in addition to major E.coli and Salmonella outbreaks in 2008 highlight the need to modernize U.S. food safety policies and practices.

TFAH released a comprehensive report, "Fixing Food Safety: Protecting America's Food Supply from Farm-to-Fork in 2008", identifying major gaps in the country’s food safety system, including obsolete laws, misallocation of resources, and inconsistencies among major food safety agencies. The full report can be found here.

“The peanut butter scandal shows that our nation’s food safety system is broken and is in urgent need of modernization,” says Jeff Levi, PhD, executive director of TFAH. “The government failed to require a preventive standard for production and the oversight function failed at several points after problems were identified. The result was the tainted product was knowingly shipped to institutions who serve some of the most vulnerable members of our society.”

Levi goes on to urge the President to “move rapidly to appoint a new Food and Drug Commissioner with a mandate to overhaul food safety operations within the FDA.”

About 76 million Americans -- one in four -- are sickened by foodborne disease each year. Of these, an estimated 325,000 are hospitalized and 5,000 die, costing the U.S. $44 billion annually. TFAH has urged the FDA and U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide detailed strategic plans to Congress with corresponding budget increases, so that crises of this nature are contained in a more effective way, or prevented from reaching the kitchens and plates of the American public altogether.

TFAH calls for a series of actions to modernize the nation's food safety system by using strategic inspection practices and state-of-the-art surveillance. Key recommendations include:

• Establishing strong leadership for food safety within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and a clear chain-of-command;

• Repealing outdated end-product and processing plant inspection mandates and shift the emphasis of inspection practices to the prevention of outbreaks and illnesses through the entire food production process and supply chain;

• Creating mechanisms that allow inspection practices to keep pace with changes in the industry;

• Establishing uniform performance standards and best practices that are enforceable through actions including detention and recall authority and civil penalty authority;

• Requiring food safety education for commercial food handlers;

• Improving monitoring of foreign imports and international practices;

• Creating uniform standards and practices across federal, state, and local levels; and

• Strengthening the FDA with increased funding and aligning resources with high risk threats.