On January 4, President Obama signed the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) into law. This legislation aims to ensure the
Soon after Congress passed this legislation, FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, MD, issued a statement that bears repeating here:
Passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act has laid the critical foundation for a prevention-based 21st century food safety system. This law makes everyone responsible and accountable at each step in today's global food supply chain. Under this new law, FDA will now have new prevention-focused tools, as well as a clear regulatory framework, to help make substantial improvements in our approach to food safety. Preventing foodborne illness is a core public health principle that is especially critical in an increasingly complex and globalized world. This law helps us take the critical steps toward strengthening the food safety system that is vital to the health and security of the American people.
Some of you might wonder the status of FDA's FSMA-realted activity and what is being done to implement the law. In a letter to stakeholders issued earlier this month, Michael Taylor, FDA deputy commissioner for foods, detailed agency actions and invited those interested to sign up to receive regular status reports. (Sign up here.)
Clearly, this effort is a major undertaking for FDA due to the agency's limited staff and the complexity of the food safety issue. The agency is, however, making progress on steps such as devising ways to inform consumers of recalls, especially in areas of greatest concern such as seafood and imports.
I think it's safe to say that all of us in the food and nutrition profession support greater consumer protection and applaud FDA actions. But let's not leave this challenge in FDA's lap. Remember there are things we can do right now to educate consumers about their responsibility in prevention food borne illnesses.
Is it possible to create a risk-free food supply? No. Outbreaks will continue to occur despite FDA's work and FSMA implementation. As dietitians, we have an important role to play in educating consumers on how to prevent foodborne illness in the home and in teaching workers restaurant, school, medical facility and cafeterias kitchens how to handle food safely.
Alarming statistics reported by the Partnership for Food Safety should convince everyone to be careful when handling food: Seventy-six million cases of foodborne illness occur annually in this country; 325,000 people are hospitalized; and 5,000 people die. But guess what: These numbers are not for lack of FDA effort. Most cases of foodborne illness can be prevented. Teach consumers to use a food thermometer to tell if cooked food has reached a proper temperature. Only 15% of Americans do this. More than half of consumers sometimes defrost meat and poultry at room temperature, thus permitting bacterial growth. And only a third of consumers use separate cutting boards for raw and cooked foods, not to mention washing their hands after handling raw food. And the list goes on.
With support from Conagra Foods, the American Dietetic Association (ADA) offers an education program to assist in outreach efforts and remind consumers and food preparers about safe food-handling practices. To download information on education strategies, check
And remember, while FDA does what it can do to assure a safe food supply, food and nutrition professionals need to do their part as well. FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg is right on target when she says that everyone is responsible and accountable at each step in today's global food supply chain.