FDA, CDC and USDA working together to improve food safety

July 22, 2010

FDA, CDC and USDA working together to improve food safety

By Scott Christie, Managing Editor

The call for increased food safety from consumers and Congress has increased the cooperation of the various regulatory agencies, and yesterday in Chicago the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, FDA and USDA Food Safety Inspection Service met with members of the public in the second of three planned public meetings.

Representatives from the agencies presented the current status and the future directions of each agency’s food safety progress, followed by comments from the public.

Patricia Griffin, chief of enteric diseases for the epidemiology branch of CDC, provided background on the agency’s four surveillance tools ¬- PulseNet, OutbreakNet, FoodNet and the Foodborne Disease Outbreak Reporting System. Each program plays a different role, but Griffin said they are all developing and implementing new tools to improve reporting and the speed of detecting outbreaks. Last year, three sentinel sites were established in Wisconsin, Utah and New York City to develop collaborative and innovative models, and this fall funding for four additional sites will be announced, which will focus on three critical areas: laboratory surveillance, epidemiological interviews and investigation and environmental health assessments.

Kara Morgan, director of Public Health Measurement and Analysis Office of Planning, Office of the Commissioner for FDA, presented the FDA’s goal of using logic modeling to measure performance. The agency wants to focus on the results that matter and provide clear evidence based on data or measurable events, while still being practical and affordable, she said. Current performance measures FDA uses include Government Performance and Results Act of 1993, which is primarily a budget measure, but does include about 20 food components. A second performance measure, FDA Transparency, Results, Accountability, Credibility and Knowledge-sharing (FDA-TRACK), has about 15 food-related measures that are generated within FDA. More will be added as the program is built, but now includes measures such as the number of times environmental samples are taken, a measure of cases reviewed in a certain timeframe and the number of positive samples from the total number of firms.

Dan Engeljohn, acting assistant administrator, Office of Data Integration and Food Protection for USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, said the agencies were cooperating more than they ever had, and USDA has set specific goals for reducing foodborne pathogens by 2015. The agency set goals to increase the number of companies under its jurisdiction with food safety defense plans (and intends to mandate those plans), improve compliance with analyzing samples and improve compliance for testing HACCP plans after an adulterous find.

The first pilot project that shows inter-agency cooperation is to reduce Salmonella enteritidis, most commonly found in eggs. The project is an easy first step, Morgan said, because there are fewer inputs, but it does show how the agencies can force change on an industry.

Much of the discussion was on meat, specifically ground beef, but the topic of produce food safety was raised a number of times, specifically leafy greens. The prepared public comments represented food manufacturing business, academic programs, consumer groups and non-profits. The groups and individuals presented the agencies with suggestions and comments on future performance measures, including traceability to the source of an outbreak (a much more difficult task with ground beef than with produce), a handwashing component for a food safety metric and better or more specific reporting data from CDC and the states.