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Entries in Food Safety (9)

Friday
Jan042013

FDA Moves on New Food Safety Rules

Comstock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The FDA proposed new rules Friday that would require U.S. food distributors to implement additional measures to combat food-borne illness. The guidelines are aimed at improving food handling in both the agriculture and manufacturing sectors after a series of recent disease outbreaks in peanuts, cantaloupe, cheese, and leafy green vegetables that killed scores of Americans.

Food safety organizations welcomed the new rules after a long delay.

“Under the old rules, we’ve been reacting to food contaminations after they happened,” Ami Gadhia of Consumers Union said in a statement. "The goal here is to prevent deadly outbreaks before people get hurt.  We’re anxious to dive deep into these proposed rules so we can review and comment on the details.”

One rule would require growers, manufacturers and distributors to develop formal plans for preventing contamination, including techniques for cleaning equipment and keeping animals out of crops. Mandatory contingency plans for outbreaks would also be required of businesses, to be approved by the government. The rule would apply to both foreign and domestic suppliers, provided their goods are bound for U.S. consumption.

Another rule proposes enforceable safety standardization in the production and harvesting of produce.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 3,000 Americans died last year from food-borne illnesses, with an additional 130,000 hospitalized.

In an effort to stave off industry protests Food and Drug Administration officials stressed the rules would be implemented on a risk-based scale, with higher emphasis placed on foods intended to be eaten raw. For example, fresh tomatoes bound for supermarket produce aisles would be held to much stricter standards than beans intended to be cooked and canned.

The FDA estimates it will take roughly a year for the government to move toward implementing the rules, including a 120-day period for public comment. After adoption the largest agriculture businesses will have two years to comply, and small-scale producers will have extensions well beyond that time frame.

Most American food distributors are already in compliance with many of the regulations set out Friday, but many are voluntary and the government believes stricter enforcement could have prevented deaths from recent highly publicized outbreaks. For example, during the 2011 listeria outbreak in cantaloupes federal investigators found dirty processing equipment and standing pools of old water on the floor of the Colorado farm that produced them. The contaminated produce was linked to 33 deaths.

But these measures are part of the Food Safety Modernization Act, a sweeping series of regulatory changes to the industry that have been tied up in the Obama administration for well over a year. As the first major overhaul of the FDA in decades, President Obama signed the legislation into law with modest Republican support from Congress two years ago to the day, with a one-year deadline to see its first policies put into practice.

Speculation of political motivations at work cropped up during the delays, fueled after the rules were hung-up at the Office of Management and Budget in the review process. Some industry watchers suggest the administration may have sought to deny Republicans an additional talking point during an election year by tabling new proposals.

Pew Research reports there have been 15 major outbreaks regarding FDA-related products since the FSMA was signed into law, resulting in 40 deaths.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Jul172012

Consumer Groups Call for White House Action on Food Safety 

Jupiterimages/Pixland/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Eighteen months ago, the bipartisan Food Safety Modernization Act was passed into law, but Tuesday parts of that law are yet to be implemented. The White House Office of Management and Budget has missed at least three statutory deadlines to introduce new rules on the safety standards of imported foods and at-risk produce. Erik Olson, director of food programs at the Pew Health Group told ABC News the delay means Americans are still at risk from their food.
 
"Forty-eight million people get sick every year from contaminated food in the U.S. That's one in six Americans and unfortunately 3,000 people die. So this delay really has impact," he said.
 
President Obama's signing of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Food Safety Modernization Act over a year ago was the first overhaul of food safety in 70 years. On Tuesday, Olson joined with 10 consumer groups, which included Food and Water Watch and STOP Foodborne Illness, to urge the White House to adopt the regulations now.
 
"Nine out of ten American voters supported those three sets of rules -- import protection, package food protection and produce safety -- so it doesn't make a lot of sense to us to delay this any longer," Olson said.

Meanwhile, the White House budget office insists it is working on the food safety issue, the Chicago Tribune reports. But the office has yet to make known when new regulations would be implemented. For now, the FDA plans not to enforce any food safety requirements, adding to consumer worries.
 
"When I sit down to dinner with my family the last thing I want to worry about is whether that food is contaminated, and we can all do something about that by weighing in with the White House to ask that they get these rules out," Olsen said.
 
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Jul112012

Budget Cuts Will Kill Food Safety Program

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Food safety advocates are frantically trying to save a little-known produce inspection program that accounts for 80 percent of all government testing of produce and has prompted recalls of tainted fruits and vegetables around the country, including an April recall of bagged spinach contaminated with salmonella.

The Microbiological Data Program (MDP), part of the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), has been slashed from the Obama administration's 2013 budget request, which says that other government agencies have better resources with which to test produce. Food safety advocates are worried that a major source of detection for salmonella, E. coli and other pathogens will leave American consumers vulnerable.

"It stops people from getting sick in the first place and industry can learn about how that product became tainted. Both of those makes moral and economic sense," attorney Bill Marler, publisher of the Food Safety News, told ABC News. He added that the money cutting the program will save -- $4.4 million -- is "chump change" compared to the benefits of keeping it.

According to Food Safety News, MDP tests an average of four times as many produce samples each year as the FDA, and eliminating it would cut government testing by 80 percent. The food safety blog reported that over a three-year period, MDP found salmonella in samples it tested 100 times, resulting in 23 salmonella recalls, including an April recall of bagged lettuce by Dole. It also prompted recalls after it found listeria and a particular strain of E. coli in other produce samples.

The MDP was launched in 2001 with the goal of monitoring food-borne pathogens in U.S. produce by sampling and testing fruit and vegetables in partnership with 11 states that account for 50 percent of the U.S. population. While the MDP doesn't regulate food safety, it works closely with and provides data to the Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration, especially during an outbreak. According to the MDP website, in 2012 it is testing a number of types of produce, including alfalfa sprouts, cantaloupe and bagged lettuce and spinach.

The testing isn't meant to be preventive, but the MDP maintains that samples are collected "close to the point of consumption" -- such as produce distribution centers -- so that if a harmful pathogen is discovered, the source could easily be traced and the product can be pulled from shelves.

Outbreaks tied to fresh produce have grabbed headlines in recent years, including the 2011 listeria contamination in cantaloupe that killed at least 30 people and the 2008 outbreak of a strain of salmonella in jalapeno peppers that sickened thousands around the country. But the produce industry has maintained that the FDA -- which investigated and took action in those cases -- is better equipped to regulating contamination.

"We support a strong testing program by that agency," Ray Gilmer of the United Fresh Produce Association, the industry's trade group, told ABC News. "We have always supported strong appropriations for FDA, and that would include testing protocols that they believe would be effective in monitoring for public health and be scientifically accurate. The USDA Agricultural Marketing Service is not the right place to conduct public health testing."

He added, "We believe that by the time USDA's MDP has detected something and notified FDA, the product has already been eaten."

Bill Marler is unconvinced. "Industry does not like testing because it prompts recalls and recalls are seen by industry as embarrassing. I see testing and recalls as positive for both consumers and industry."

At least one lawmaker has launched a last-ditch effort to save the program. In a letter urging the Office of Management and Budget to restore funding to MDP, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D.-Connecticut, noted the program performed more than 35,000 tests on over 17,400 produce samples in 2011 alone.

"It is unacceptable for this valuable, cost-effective program – and the only program dedicated to improving our understanding of the bacterial contamination of produce – to be eliminated," Rep. DeLauro wrote. "A critical program like this should not slip through the cracks because of questions of where it best belongs."

A spokesperson for the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service told ABC News today that the program is ongoing and there has been no word on its future status.

In the House appropriations bill, it was noted that the AMS may be better suited to focus on the marketing – and not the testing – of produce: "While food safety is a vitally important part of successfully marketing produce and other agricultural products, other Federal and State public health agencies are better equipped to perform this function."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
Jun172011

House Slashes Spending for Food Safety, Nutrition Programs

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- House Republicans narrowly passed a bill that makes significant cuts across the Department of Agriculture and related agencieS.  It is being chided by Democrats for making steep cuts to food safety and child nutrition programs.

The measure narrowly passed on a vote of 217-203 Thursday, with 19 Republicans joining all House Democrats voting against the legislation, which makes a 21 percent cut to the FDA’s budget totaling $572 million below the president’s request -- including $285 million or 12 percent just this year.

Democrats, including Rep. John Dingell -- the Dean of the House -- slammed Republicans for voting for the bill, charging that these deep cuts are “indefensible” and will severely undermine food safety efforts and increase the risk of food-borne illnesses.

“At a time when 30 people have been grossly sickened and died in Germany and 3,000 have been sickened, we are cutting Food and Drug's enforcement budget,” Dingell, D-Mich., said on the floor Wednesday. “Every year in the United States, 3,000 Americans are killed with bad food, 128,000 are hospitalized, 48 million are made sick. We have imported food that is causing all manner of difficulty: bad peanuts with salmonella, bad mushrooms, E. coli in peppers, melamine in dairy products, salmonella in eggs, bad shellfish and fish from China.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said that the bill also makes “foolish cuts” to nutrition programs for some of the most vulnerable Americans, including women, infants and children, or WIC, by about 10 percent -- slashing $650 million from the program, decreasing funding levels from $6.73 billion this year to $6.05 billion.

In total, the legislation approves $125.5 billion in both discretionary and mandatory funding, a reduction of more than $7 billion from the president’s FY2012 request. The bill reduces discretionary spending by $2.7 billion from last year’s level -- a cut of more than $5 billion from the President’s request.

The legislation now heads to the Senate, where sources say it is unlikely to pass in its current form.

Rep. Jack Kingston, the Agriculture subcommittee chairman, praised the passage of the bill, noting that “as the Congress continues the battle to lower spending, cut waste and create jobs” lawmakers made tough votes in order to get the country on a fiscally sustainable path.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
Feb072011

Calif. Ground Beef Recalled Over Concerns of E. Coli Contamination

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Around 3,170 pounds of ground beef products produced by a California company were recalled Monday due to concerns about E. coli contamination.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service has announced that a batch of beef produced at American Food Services, out of Pico Rivera, Calif., may be contaminated. The FSIS was made aware of the possible contamination after another federally regulated establishment contacted them after receiving what they believed was suspect product from the company.
 
Recalled products range from 10-20 pound cases of ground beef patties to 60-pound cases of lean taco grind ground beef. The potentially-contaminated products were produced Jan. 31 and distributed to restaurants in southern California.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
Jan032011

Obama to Sign Food Safety Act into Law; Funding for Implementation Unclear with GOP in Control of House

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and the head of the FDA held a conference call with reporters Monday on The Food Safety and Modernization Act, which the President will sign into law Tuesday. Secretary Sebelius said that the act would finally bring U.S. food safety laws up to date and help with efforts to keep the food supply safe as the number of foodborne diseases and outbreaks have increased in recent years. Sebelius said that in the 1990s there were about 100 foodborne outbreaks every year but that now there are an estimated 350 outbreaks every year in the United States.
 
Because of these increased outbreaks Sebelius said that it is estimated that one out of six Americans is struck with food-related illnesses every year and that as many as 3,000 people die each year from foodborne illness.
 
The key part of the act that was discussed on the call involved providing the FDA with mandatory recall authority and the ability of the FDA to access food producers' records. Asked on the call about the costs of implementing the act, FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg said the estimated costs over five years to implement the act was $1.4 billion. It is unclear if the new incoming Republican Congress will fully fund the act’s implementation.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Sunday
Jan022011

Feds to Consider Whether Synthetic Food Dyes are Bad for Kids

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has scheduled a public hearing in March as it considers a ban on synthetic food dyes.  The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a group critics call the "Food Police," has long called for such a ban, claiming the synthetic dyes can cause hyperactivity and other problems for children.

Some experts say that food coloring is among the most tightly-regulated aspect of the American diet and does no harm.  There are nine FDA-approved synthetic hues that are used to even out natural coloring, making food more appealing or "fun." 

A possible connection between synthetic food dyes and hyperactivity surfaced in the 1970s when a researcher began treating such disorders by removing certain substances, including the dyes, from children's diets.  But that research never rose to the standards of proof needed to make a big change.

In 2007, British research published in the medical journal, The Lancet, renewed the debate after finding the coloring could be causing hyperactivity.  The British government acted, recommending parents remove foods containing six of the dyes from their children's diets. 

The FDA maintains there is no connection between the dyes and hyperactivity-type disorders, but has invited the British researchers to its March public hearing.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Nov302010

Iowa Egg Farm Linked to Salmonella Outbreak Cleared by FDA

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(GALT, Iowa) -- The FDA has cleared the way for an Iowa farm to resume egg shipments after more than 1,800 cases of Salmonella were linked to their eggs.

In a press release Tuesday, the FDA said Wright County Egg will be allowed to sell eggs from two hen houses that have been cleaned and no longer pose a health risk.

Egg shipments have not left the farm since being linked to a multi-state Salmonella outbreak in August.

“During the outbreak, I said that FDA would not agree to the sale of eggs to consumers from Wright County Egg until we had confidence that they could be shipped and consumed safely,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg. “After four months of intensive work by the company and oversight, testing, and inspections by FDA, I am satisfied that time has come.”
 
Wright County Egg released a statement Thursday in response to the announcement by the FDA.

“Extraordinary measures have been put in place to put our egg farms at the forefront of food safety and to protect the health of our birds, and our team has worked tirelessly over the past several months to ensure that the past situation is never repeated,” said Peter DeCoster, Wright County Egg’s chief operating officer.

DeCoster said the farm will continue to work with Salmonella experts to implement standards above and beyond those required by the FDA.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Nov172010

Will The Food Safety Bill Make Our Meals Safer?

Photo Courtesy -- Getty Images(WASHINGTON) – The Senate is scheduled to take up debate Thursday on a bill to strengthen the nation’s food safety rules.

The bill, which was passed in the House almost a year ago, would give the FDA the power to mandate food recalls. It would also allow the FDA to increase inspections of food producers, improve tracking of fruit and vegetable shipments and set stricter standards for food manufacturers to help prevent outbreaks of contamination.

Food experts have offered their opinions on whether the bill will truly make food safer for consumers. 

"It will be a huge victory for consumers when it passes, and will pay off rapidly with better public health and economic protections,” said Caroline Smith DeWaal, Director of Food Policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "With better internal controls and better oversight, the legislation will help to prevent contaminated foods from reaching the public.” Smith also noted that the bill is equipped with safety nets that would give the FDA more control, like the authority to issue mandatory recalls and civil penalties, if problems do occur.

Other industry experts have raised concerns over why the Senate has taken so long to begin debate.

Marios Nestle, a professor at New York University, supports the bill but finds it “truly shocking” that the Senate has sat on it since July 2009.

“The bill has bipartisan support but neither party wants the other to get credit for passing it,” Nestle said.

Even as debate gets underway, some remain doubtful that the bill will offer the protection it has promised.

"There are bad players in the system, which government is supposed to catch, but given the pervasive food safety outbreaks over the past 20 years, they don't seem very good at it,” said Dr. Douglas Powell, a profesor at Kansas State University.

"Will the new bill mean fewer sick people? Doubtful.”

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio







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