Report Faults FDA on Food Safety

A prevailing report issued by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council states that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) needs to step up <"">food safety operations, said The Associated Press (AP).

The report faults the agency’s efficiency and says it needs to use its limited funds to prevent foodborne illness outbreaks, said the AP, adding that the report—a large 500 pages—says the FDA does not have what it takes to protect consumers and has a tendency to be reactive, not preventative. The report suggests the agency concentrate on outbreak prevention in the riskiest foods and not case-by-case responses, wrote the AP.

Robert Wallace, chairman of the committee that authored the report, said, “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,” quoted the AP. Wallace is a professor at the University of Iowa’s College of Public Health, the AP added.

Of note, last month we wrote that The Center for Infectious Disease Research & Policy (CIDRAP) announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), using its recently released tool for calculating the cost of foodborne illnesses, estimated that Salmonella and Escherichia coli O157:H7 cases cost the nation about $3.13 billion a year. The USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) estimated that Salmonella infections, from all sources, cost about $2.65 billion annually, based on an estimate by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of 1.4 million Salmonella cases annually from all sources, with 415 deaths. The estimated average cost per case is $1,896. The ERS also put the cost of E. coli O157 cases at $478.4 million, using the CDC’s estimate of 73,480 cases per year from all sources, with 61 deaths. The average cost per case is estimated at $6,510.

Many of the recommendations would be handled under food safety legislation passed by the House in 2009, said the AP. For instance. The legislation will allow for quicker and more efficient tracking of the origins of food borne outbreaks, help to prevent further outbreaks, increase food facility inspections, expand agency access to records and test outcomes, and allow the agency to issue recalls when a company does not recall a dangerous product, said My Fox Chicago previously. The Senate is looking for a similar bill over the next few months, said the AP.

The FDA, explained the AP, is responsible for the safety of most of the nation’s food supply—some 80 percent—such as seafood, dairy, and produce. The agency’s responsibility also includes over 150,000 food facilities, over one million restaurants and food establishments, and over two million farms, wrote the AP, citing the report. The USDA, meanwhile, has oversight for meat, poultry, and some—not all—egg products, said the AP. To confuse matters, food safety is handled by no less than 15 different agencies that work under some 30 laws, with some in effect over 100 years, wrote the AP.

The report suggested improved coordination at the state level, the creation of one food safety agency, and a “risk-based analysis and data management center,” said the AP.

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