WASHINGTON D.C. (FDA) — A joint public meeting focused on improving the system for tracing of food products and ingredients that are causing illness outbreaks or presenting other risks to the health of consumers was announced Thursday by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Recognizing the need to increase the speed and accuracy of traceback investigations and traceforward operations, both agencies are building on existing efforts by seeking public input that would help identify elements of effective food product tracing systems, identify current gaps in food product tracing, and suggest specific mechanisms for improvements.
The meeting is also intended to improve the ability of FDA and FSIS to use the information in such systems to respond to outbreaks more quickly by rapidly identifying the source of contamination during outbreaks of foodborne illness, and improving the ability of all persons in the supply chain to more quickly identify food that is (or potentially is) contaminated and remove it from the market during traceforward operations.
“This public meeting provides an opportunity for FDA to collaborate more closely with FSIS as well as with members of the food industry, many of whom have been making important innovations in food safety practices and technology, and all of whom bear primary responsibility for producing and marketing safe food,” said Michael R. Taylor, senior advisor to FDA’s Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, M.D.
“The Food Safety and Inspection Service is eager to work with FDA, public health officials, consumer advocates, and the food industry to improve our ability to trace products that may cause illness outbreaks,” said Jerold R. Mande, USDA’s Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety. “The public can provide valuable input to strengthen our prevention, surveillance and response and recovery efforts, as outlined by the Administration’s Food Safety Working Group.” In March 2009, President Obama announced the formation of the Food Safety Working Group, and in July, President Obama released Key Findings, which highlight steps that FSIS, FDA, and other Federal Agencies are taking to improve food safety.
Food can become contaminated at many different steps in the supply chain. Experience in conducting foodborne disease outbreak investigations suggests that improved product tracing abilities could help identify products associated with disease more quickly, get risky products off the market faster, and reduce the number of sicknesses associated with foodborne illness outbreaks.
The FDA and FSIS share authority for helping to ensure the safety of the nation’s food supply. Each agency investigates foodborne illness outbreaks and other foodborne risks associated with the products they regulate. These investigations, conducted in close cooperation with the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention and state and local health and agriculture departments, often involve tracing backward or forward in the supply chain the distribution of food products and ingredients associated with risk to consumer health.
A traceback investigation is an investigation to determine and document the distribution and production chain, and the source(s), of contaminated (and potentially contaminated) food, often in the context of an outbreak of foodborne illness. A traceforward operation is an operation to determine the distribution of contaminated (and potentially contaminated) food.
The meeting will be held Dec. 9 and 10 in Washington at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s South Building in the Jefferson Auditorium, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, D.C., 20250.
Those interested in attending the public meeting can pre-register online at: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/News_&_Events/Meetings_&_Events/index.asp. Online pre-registration is preferred, but pre-registration can also be done by faxing registration information (including name, title, firm name, address, telephone number, e-mail address and fax number) to 1-877-366-3322 by Dec. 2. Pre-registration is strongly encouraged for all persons who wish to attend the meeting, regardless of whether they also wish to request an opportunity to make oral comments at the meeting on issues and questions described in the Federal Register notice.
For more information on food safety visit www.foodsafety.gov.