Report: FDA Needs More Efficient Approach To Food Safety

FDA’s abilities to discover potential threats to food safety and prevent outbreaks of foodborne illness are hampered by impediments to efficient use of its limited resources, says a new report by the Institute of Medicine and National Research Council.

To more proactively tackle food safety problems, FDA should implement a risk-based approach in which data and expertise are marshaled to pinpoint where along the production, distribution, and handling chains there is the greatest potential for contamination and other problems, the report says. The agency would then be able to direct appropriate amounts of its resources and attention to those high-risk areas and increase the chances of catching problems before they turn into widespread outbreaks, said the committee that wrote the report.

The report offers FDA a blueprint for developing a risk-based model. It also outlines several organizational steps the agency should take to improve the efficiency of its many food safety activities, such as increasing coordination with state and other federal agencies that share responsibility for protecting the nation’s food supply. In addition, the report says Congress should consider amending the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to explicitly provide the authority FDA needs to fulfill its food safety mission.

“As recent illnesses traced to produce underscore, foodborne diseases cause significant suffering, so it’s imperative that our food safety system functions effectively at all levels,” said committee chair Robert Wallace, professor, College of Public Health, University of Iowa, Iowa City. “FDA uses some risk assessment and management tactics, but the agency’s approach is too often reactive and lacks a systematic focus on prevention. Our report’s recommendations aim to help FDA achieve a comprehensive vision for proactively protecting against threats to the nation’s food supply.”

FDA is responsible for ensuring the safety of approximately 80% of the nation’s food supply, including seafood, dairy products, and fruits, and vegetables. Although it is not the sole organization overseeing food safety — USDA handles meat, poultry, and egg products, and state and local agencies share in conducting food production facility inspections, surveillance, and investigations of outbreaks — recent outbreaks of foodborne illness led to a congressional request for a review of gaps in FDA’s food safety system.

The agency has been criticized for not adequately monitoring and inspecting food suppliers and distributors and for not taking a proactive approach to food safety overall. However, given that FDA is responsible for more than 150,000 food facilities, more than 1 million restaurants and other retail food establishments, and more than 2 million farms, as well as millions of tons of imports, it lacks the resources to sufficiently monitor the entire food supply, the committee noted.

A risk-based approach would give FDA’s food safety officials the strategic vision needed to evaluate and plan for food safety concerns rather than tackling problems on a case-by-case basis, the report says. Without good information, agency officials cannot identify where its resources are needed most or determine which policy interventions are most effective. The agency should identify its data needs and review its policies for sharing data with other agencies and organizations.

The federal government should establish a centralized food safety data center outside of the regulatory agencies to collect information and conduct rapid, sophisticated assessments of food safety risks and appropriate policy interventions. This center would go a long way toward developing much-needed capacity and would reduce interagency competition for resources, the committee said. It could also serve as an intermediate step toward consolidating food safety activities within a single agency, which many individuals and organizations have called for.

To enhance its efficiency, FDA should explore alternative approaches to regulating food safety, such as delegating food facility inspections to the states, the report says. FDA should establish national standards for the intensity and frequency of these facility reviews and help states and local municipalities bring their safety programs up to those standards. Once all programs are standardized, FDA should train and certify state inspectors with the goal of turning over the majority of inspections to them under the agency’s supervision. This change would build on current practices in which roughly 60% of inspections are already conducted by state inspectors under contract with FDA. This integration and leveraging of resources would increase the quality of inspections and eliminate duplication of effort, the committee said.

Despite the dramatic developments in food production and distribution that have occurred over the years, the main statutory provisions under which FDA carries out its food safety responsibilities remain largely unchanged. Although various provisions give the agency broad discretion and flexibility through which it has been able to control potential problems, there are instances in which FDA lacks specific authority, which can make its actions vulnerable to court challenge. Congress should examine how the legislation could be revised to detail FDA’s authorities in facility registration, preventive controls, risk-based inspection, mandatory recall, reporting of adulteration, and banning of food imports if the public’s health is at risk, among other areas.

The report was requested by Congress and sponsored by USDA. The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies.

Copies of Enhancing Food Safety: The Role of the Food and Drug Administration are available from the National Academies Press by calling 202-334-3313 or 800-624-6242 or by going to www.nap.edu.

Source: Institute of Medicine and National Research Council news release

Leave a Reply

Featured Stories

All Vegetables Stories >All Fruits Stories >All Nuts Stories >All Citrus Stories >

The Latest

IrrigationFlorida Growers Seize Control Of Water Challenges
September 22, 2014
New irrigation projects and fertilizer practices have tremendous potential for protecting resources, while enhancing productivity. Read More
CitrusNew Superhero Aims To Save Florida Citrus
September 22, 2014
Unique marketing partnership comes to life through comics. Read More
Apples & PearsKasumin Now Registered For Fire Blight Control
September 22, 2014
EPA approves use of bactericide on pome fruit as disease management tool. Read More
Food SafetyUSDA Issues Updates To Food Safety Modernization Act
September 19, 2014
Water testing, definition of applicable farms based on produce sales among clarifications to proposed rules. Read More
GrapesThird Straight Record Crop For Washington Grapes
September 19, 2014
Numbers expected to climb as more vines planted in the state. Read More
GrapesFrench Winegrowers Face Higher Labor Costs
September 19, 2014
French wineries may come under added financial pressure as the government considers imposing social charges on wages paid to harvest workers with short-term contracts. Read More
IrrigationCalifornia Boosts Local Water Control
September 19, 2014
Governor Jerry Brown signs historic legislation to strengthen local management and monitoring of critical groundwater basins. Read More
VegetablesSakata Seed America Shows Heart Through Charitable Prog…
September 19, 2014
Company’s corporate giving mission bears fruit for the American Heart Association. Read More
Insect & Disease UpdateAdditional Aid Coming For Florida Citrus Growers Gouged…
September 17, 2014
Through USDA’s Tree Assistance Program, eligible growers can cash in on cost share for diseased tree removal and replanting. Read More
FruitsFlorida Fruit & Vegetable Association Seeks Fresh A…
September 17, 2014
New partnership bolsters Fresh From Florida program. Read More
CitrusFDA Announces Cooperative Agreement To Implement Nation…
September 17, 2014
Agreement will provide information to help plan and carry out the produce safety rule in partnership with state regulatory agencies. Read More
NutsAchieving A Super-Premium Walnut Crop
September 17, 2014
What are the best ways to get high quality walnuts that are light in color and fully developed? Read these 8 harvest best practices to find out. Read More
NutsAlmond Growers Highly Dependent On Groundwater
September 17, 2014
Fully 87% of large growers use groundwater to irrigate their trees. Read More
NutsWarm Winter And Drought Casting Doubt On Pistachio Harv…
September 17, 2014
Though Rabobank report says that one billion pounds still attainable by 2019. Read More
Crop ProtectionBagrada Bug On The Move In California
September 16, 2014
Find out more on management tactics and what counties are impacted by this invasive pest. Read More
Cucurbits14 Stand-Out Melon Varieties [Slideshow]
September 15, 2014
Browse the slideshow below for information on these exceptional melon varieties from the nation’s leading seed breeders and distributors. Read More
Grower Achievement AwardView Highlights From The 2014 United Fresh Washington P…
September 15, 2014
Browse this slideshow to view photos from the 2014 United Fresh Washington Public Policy Conference, including pictures of this year’s Grower Read More
Apples & PearsCanneries Hope To Encourage Growers To Grow Pears For P…
September 15, 2014
Higher wholesale prices offered as means to boost canning pear acres. Read More