Collaboration is vital to shift from a responsive to a preventative approach to foodborne disease outbreaks, according to a senior FDA figure.
Michael R. Taylor, deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine at the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), called on industry and government to cooperate to ensure consumer confidence and break down barriers on food safety.
Speaking at the Global Food Safety Conference 2013 in Barcelona, Taylor said there was “no question” that globalisation made the food safety challenge difficult.
The US imported 80% of its seafood, 50% of its fresh fruit and 20% of its vegetables, he said.
Taylor added that the US food industry had to “grapple with long and complicated supply chains” and there was a “difficulty of overseeing what happens overseas” in relation to imported products.
He said E.coli O157 could be tackled better by industry taking more responsibility, public policy initiatives - such as the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) - moving towards prevention and basing actions on science knowledge.
Education and outreach was also vital to ensure everyone knows what the standards are, added Taylor.
Foodborne illness burden
Angelika Tritscher, acting director, department of food safety and zoonoses at the World Health Organization (WHO) said there was little information available on the estimated burden of foodborne diseases.
In a separate conference presentation, she claimed boosting infrastructure to strengthen food safety systems could help. Working from a basis of sound science and cross-sector collaboration and communication were also key issues, she said.
Challenges included the increased complexity of products, manufacturing methods and the supply chain and the fact that hazards did not respect borders or boundaries, Tritscher added.
Meanwhile, The Center for Biosecurity of University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) has issued a report focusing on strengthening the US response to disease outbreaks.
The report recommends bolstering public health departments that conduct outbreak investigations, tapping private sector expertise to solve outbreaks and developing technologies to keep national foodborne illness surveillance programs up to date and relevant.
The authors analyzed existing data and studies on foodborne illness outbreak response, identified emerging trends, and interviewed federal and state-level officials and global experts from within and outside the industry.
"The sooner the source of an outbreak is identified, the sooner we can issue accurate targeted warnings and take the contaminated products off the shelves," said report author Jennifer Nuzzo.
But the authors noted that even with “more and better prevention efforts, it is economically, politically, and scientifically difficult to guarantee 100% protection of the US food supply”.