January 31, 2023

FDA’s top food safety official resigns

The federal Food and Drug Administration’s top food safety official has resigned, saying the structure of the agency hampered its response to last year’s nationwide infant formula shortage.

Frank Yiannas, deputy commissioner for food policy and response since 2018, informed FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf via email that his last day would be Feb. 24. Yiannas also tweeted his decision on Jan. 25.

Frank Yiannas, deputy commissioner for food policy and response since 2018, has resigned. Photo: Provided

He said he told Califf early last year that the structure of the foods program “significantly impaired FDA’s ability to operate as an integrated food team and protect the public” in his resignation letter.

Yiannas said he postponed leaving last year after learning of problems at the Abbott Laboratories infant formula plant in Michigan, which was shuttered for months because of contamination. Since reopened, the plant is facing a Justice Department criminal investigation.

Increased formula supplies and monitoring make it a better time to leave FDA, Yiannas said.

“My fervent hope is that American consumers, especially mothers and fathers of infants, never again have to face this type of preventable situation,” Yiannas wrote.

FDA spokeswoman Tara Rabin confirmed Yiannas’ resignation to The Associated Press.

Yiannas’ notice comes less than a week before Califf is expected to release a response to a report calling for an overhaul of the agency’s regulation of human and animal foods. The Reagan-Udall Foundation, a group tied to but separate from the FDA, said in the report that the agency leadership and culture must be restructured to better respond to food safety crises and public health problems.

Yiannas called for the appointment of a “fully empowered and experienced” deputy commissioner for foods, with direct oversight of those issues. Advocacy groups and several former FDA officials have echoed that call.

In a statement provided to NBC News, the FDA praised Yiannas for helping to “create a safer and more digital, traceable food system for our country” and promised an update on steps to strengthen organizational structure by the end of February.

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