Dr. David Acheson, associate commissioner for foods, was slated to be the main speaker, but due to the recent salmonella outbreak, was unable to attend. Kari Barrett, senior advisor with the FDA’s office of food protection, spoke in his place. Also speaking was Beth Berndt, director of industry, solutions, consumer products for CDC Software. The Secretary of Health and Human Services and Commissioner of Food and Drug charged the FDA with designing a visionary, integrated Food Protection Plan. Barrett described the plan as a “holistic approach to food safety.” The plan consists of 38 FDA administrative actions and 10 legislative proposals.
Barrett began the Webcast by explaining why the FDA decided to create the protection plan, which was released in November 2007. Due to changing demographics such as a rising population of high-risk individuals, more imports, new foodborne pathogens, and the potential risk of bioterrorism and intentional harm to food, the FDA, which is responsible for 80 percent of all food sold in the U.S., moved to strengthen its authority by gaining more control over more products in order to better protect consumers. The FDA’s plan consists of three categories: prevent, intervene, and respond. The three elements address avoiding food contamination, interceding at key points in the food supply chain, and reacting quickly to reduce harm. These steps of protection, according to the text of the plan, “promote increased corporate responsibility to prevent foodborne illnesses, identify food vulnerabilities and assess risks, expand the understanding and use of effective mitigation measures; focus inspections and samplings based on risk, enhance risk-based surveillance, improve the detection of food system ‘signals’ that indicate contamination; improve immediate response, [and] improve risk communications to the public, industry, and other stakeholders.”
The legislative proposals discussed during the Webcast focus on improving the FDA’s control over the three core principles, calling for such changes as “empowering FDA to issue mandatory recall of food products when voluntary recalls are not effective” and giving the administration “more complete and streamlined access to records needed to identify the source of foodborne illness.”
“We want to be more proactive and preventative rather than in reactive mode,” Barrett said. She also noted how the new protection plan will work with last year’s Import Safety Action Plan and the U.S. and China Memorandum to improve the safety of imports and foreign production facilities.
Currently, the FDA intends to establish a risk-based approach with the help of a newly created steering committee as well as to talk to industry and consumer groups and foreign governments in its outreach program. Barrett said this tactic will “focus on risks over a product’s life cycle, target resources to achieve maximum risk reduction, and use science and modern technology systems to identify potential hazards.” The Administration hopes the plan will improve coordination between food-related activities within the FDA and external communication. Barrett stressed that efficient and reliable communication is vital, especially in emergencies such as a recall when immediate responses are crucial. She also mentioned how the FDA is working to improve traceabilty methods to be better able to track products from the supplier to the consumer and vice versa in order to ensure complete knowledge of the products’ origins and journeys. She used the recent outbreak of salmonella in tomatoes as an example of how the immediate communication of information is imperative and how locating the source of a problem is key to tackling a crisis.
A recording of the full Webcast is available on the Ross Inc. Web site at http://cdcsoftwareinc.com/mk/get/ROSS-WC-FOOD-PROTECTION-FB-GEN, and there is a docket, open through the end of July, at www.regulations.gov where one can post suggestions and comments concerning the Food Protection Plan. A full text of the plan is available on the FDA’s website. —Mary Fletcher King