There's More to Food Safety Than FDA

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On January 4, President Obama signed the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) into law. This legislation aims to ensure the U.S. food supply is safe by shifting the focus of federal regulators from responding to contamination to preventing it. It gives the Food and Drug Administration unprecedented authority to issue food recalls, conduct more inspections of U.S. food manufacturing facilities and more closely oversee imported foods.

 

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 ADA's website
here.

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.  

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About This Blog

I launched Nutrition Viewpoint to provide nutrition professionals, health care providers, and food and beverage marketers with a forum for examining issues, and trends that affect how we influence food and nutrition policies and how food and nutrition policies influence us. The thoughts and opinions I express in this blog are strictly my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of my clients. Readers are invited to comment on my postings, and I hope that we can engage in a lively conversation. From time to time, Nutrition Viewpoint will also feature guest bloggers. Because of my keen interest in women's nutritional health, I have devoted a special section of this blog to women's issues.

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About Me

Susan Finn

I am a registered dietitian who has spent 30+ years as a nutrition communicator - interpreting the science of nutrition into practical applications for consumers, health professionals, and the food and beverage industry. I am a principal in the nutrition policy and positioning consultancy Finn/Parks & Associates. I currently serve as a senior advisor to Fleishman-Hillard International Communications and am also the CEO and president of the American Council for Fitness & Nutrition. I am a past president of The American Dietetic Association (ADA), the world's largest organization of nutrition experts, and am immediate past chair of the ADA Foundation. While I feel passionately about the importance of nutrition for people of all ages, I am particularly interested in women's nutritional health. Throughout my career, I have concentrated on women's unique nutritional needs and their critical role as gatekeepers for family health.

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