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

IrrigationCalifornia Growers Sue State Over Drought
October 30, 2014
They claim the State Water Resources Control Board illegally denied water deliveries. Read More
CucurbitsNew Watermelon Planting Program For The Southeast U.S.
October 30, 2014
Sakata seeking to make regional impact by providing in-demand material through several local producers. Read More
Leafy Vegetables3 Can’t-Miss Cabbage Varieties For Florida Growers
October 30, 2014
Reed's Seeds highlights a trio of high-performance selections for Sunshine State producers. Read More
Insect ControlTake Control Of Thrips In Your Greenhouse
October 30, 2014
Why such a foreboding title? Thrips, one of the tiniest pests of greenhouse crops, are the carrier of one of Read More
BerriesManage Black Root Rot Of Strawberry
October 30, 2014
Controls include preplant nematode analysis, three-to-five year crop rotations, and more. Read More
FruitsSexual Evolution May Bear More Fruit In The Orchard
October 30, 2014
Scientists take a closer look at genes and find new plant breeding possibilities. Read More
Apples & PearsWashington Apples To Restart Shipments To China
October 29, 2014
Agreement reached between U.S. and Chinese governments to reinstate market access after two-year absence. Read More
EquipmentEnter To Win A Kubota At The Washington State Horticultural Association Annual Meeting
October 29, 2014
Attendees have a chance to take home a new utility vehicle courtesy of Wilbur-Ellis and Western Fruit Grower. Read More
CitrusUSDA To Provide $4 Million For Honey Bee Habitat
October 29, 2014
The funds will go toward helping growers implement conservation practices to improve honey bee health. Read More
FruitsHuge California Drought Meeting Planned
October 29, 2014
State, federal officials to meet as forecasts for the coming year look bleak. Read More

The Latest

IrrigationCalifornia Growers Sue State Over Drought
October 30, 2014
They claim the State Water Resources Control Board illegally denied water deliveries. Read More
CucurbitsNew Watermelon Planting Program For The Southeast U.S.
October 30, 2014
Sakata seeking to make regional impact by providing in-demand material through several local producers. Read More
Leafy Vegetables3 Can’t-Miss Cabbage Varieties For Florida Grower…
October 30, 2014
Reed's Seeds highlights a trio of high-performance selections for Sunshine State producers. Read More
Insect ControlTake Control Of Thrips In Your Greenhouse
October 30, 2014
Why such a foreboding title? Thrips, one of the tiniest pests of greenhouse crops, are the carrier of one of Read More
BerriesManage Black Root Rot Of Strawberry
October 30, 2014
Controls include preplant nematode analysis, three-to-five year crop rotations, and more. Read More
FruitsSexual Evolution May Bear More Fruit In The Orchard
October 30, 2014
Scientists take a closer look at genes and find new plant breeding possibilities. Read More
Apples & PearsWashington Apples To Restart Shipments To China
October 29, 2014
Agreement reached between U.S. and Chinese governments to reinstate market access after two-year absence. Read More
EquipmentEnter To Win A Kubota At The Washington State Horticult…
October 29, 2014
Attendees have a chance to take home a new utility vehicle courtesy of Wilbur-Ellis and Western Fruit Grower. Read More
CitrusUSDA To Provide $4 Million For Honey Bee Habitat
October 29, 2014
The funds will go toward helping growers implement conservation practices to improve honey bee health. Read More
FruitsHuge California Drought Meeting Planned
October 29, 2014
State, federal officials to meet as forecasts for the coming year look bleak. Read More
PotatoesNew CEO At Black Gold Farms, A Top 100 Grower
October 28, 2014
Eric Halverson takes the reins at the potato operation, while his father Gregg will remain president of the farm’s board of directors. Read More
FruitsValent U.S.A., MGK Enter Into Marketing Agreement
October 28, 2014
Valent U.S.A. to manage the marketing and sales of MGK’s crop protection line of insect control products beginning in April 2015. Read More
VegetablesMultistate Land-Grant University Research Project Contr…
October 28, 2014
The project began in the 1970s as a Regional Initiative and has since expanded Internationally. Read More
FruitsMichigan State Offers Online Database Of Tree Fruit Dis…
October 28, 2014
Search engine helps growers identify several issues in the orchard. Read More
Stone FruitStudy Examines How To Keep Sweet Cherries Fresh
October 28, 2014
Canadian researcher says cooling of sweet cherries is key to delivering a quality product. Read More
Protected AgricultureLED Lighting Symposium To Be Held At University Of Ariz…
October 27, 2014
Event to focus on LED lighting technologies for specialty crop production. Read More
Cucurbits11 Cool Cucurbits For Florida’s Climate
October 27, 2014
Leading vegetable seed companies highlight high-performance selections for growers in the Sunshine State. Read More
CitrusModern Agriculture Is A True Centerpiece Of Thanksgivin…
October 27, 2014
FFAA's Mary Hartney says take time during this holiday season to give thanks where thanks is due. Read More