The federal system designed to prevent food borne disease outbreaks or bioterrorism attacks is so inadequate that only five out of every 40 foods can be traced all the way through the supply chain, according to recent findings. A report from the Inspector General’s office of the Department of Health and Human Services reveals that the self-reporting system used to keep track of these problems is not working. Although companies are required to keep records that would allow federal investigators to track food throughout the supply chain, many of the records are not detailed enough, and company managers are often unaware of the extent of reporting requirements. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), who requested the investigation, had this to say:
The food safety regulatory structure lacks an adequate traceability system. Traceability is a critical tool in our ability to identify the source of a food-borne illness outbreak.
According to the report, 70 out of 118 tested companies failed to meet the FDA’s record-keeping requirements for information about suppliers, shippers and customers. “In some cases, managers had to look through large numbers of records – some of them paper-based – for contact information,” according to the report. Rep. DeLauro said traceability will be a focal point of Congressional food safety reform measures. Lawmakers have increased their focus on strengthening the nation’s food safety system in the wake of the recent salmonella outbreak linked to peanut butter food products. In addition to several bills being introduced in Congress that would strengthen record-keeping requirements and impose tougher penalties, it’s significant that the Obama Administration has requested a thorough investigation of the federal food safety system.
The Obama Administration has now issued a tough warning to all food makers that sloppy manufacturing practices would no longer be tolerated. With that warning, the Administration signaled that it was substantially changing the way the government oversees food safety. Food-handling practices – that in the past would have resulted in mild warnings – may now lead to wide-ranging and expensive recalls, even before anyone becomes ill from contaminated food. Dr. David Acheson, associate commissioner for foods at the Food and Drug Administration, issued this warning:
The food industry needs to be on notice that FDA is going to be much more proactive and move things far faster. We’re going to try to stop people from getting sick in the first place, as opposed to waiting until we have illness and death before we take action.
Most folks are shocked when they learn that the FDA doesn’t have the power to recall foods itself. Hopefully, we will see some real reforms in the way the federal government regulates food safety in this country now that an Administration is making this important issue a real priority.
Source: Lawyers USA and New York Times
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