Pew identifies four food safety issues to watch in 2018

By Joseph James Whitworth contact

- Last updated on GMT

Picture: iStock/booblik_uk
Picture: iStock/booblik_uk
The Pew Charitable Trusts has identified four food safety issues to watch this year.

The group said enhancement to FDA recalls, hog slaughter modernization, food safety funding and reauthorization of the farm bill are food safety policy developments expected in 2018.

The Office of Inspector General (OIG) said there was ‘room for improvement’ in how the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) handles the recall process.

FDA published draft guidance​ looking at speeding up the recall process.

Change in recall process

One change under consideration is disclosing information about retail and food service locations that sold or served recalled products. Currently, the agency often does not disclose these details.

FDA’s position is retailer names and locations qualify as ‘confidential commercial information’.

The Pew Charitable Trusts and other public health groups urged FDA to adopt a consistent policy to provide such facts so Americans can easily determine if they have bought or eaten contaminated foods.

“The names and locations of retail stores where recalled products were sold is critical information that is necessary to effectuate a recall, the goal of which is to prevent consumers from suffering illnesses that can lead to serious adverse health consequences or death.

“The names and locations of retailers of recalled products are absolutely “necessary to enable a consumer” to take action that would protect themselves and their families in response to a recall, as consumers may lack information about a product beyond knowing the store at which the product was purchased.”

FSIS NSIS rule

The second issue is the USDA proposed rule that would shift how certain hog slaughterhouse duties are divided between the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) and companies that own the hogs.

The proposal would allow FSIS inspectors in sites that opt in to perform more duties away from the animal processing line, such as overseeing a facility’s compliance with sanitation and prevention-based food safety regulations.

USDA-FSIS said the New Swine Slaughter Inspection System (NSIS​) will modernize the system. The deadline for comments on the proposed rule has been extended to 2 May with more than 8,000 comments already having been received.

The Government Accountability Project (GAP) and Food & Water Watch said the plans put food safety at risk while the National Pork Producers Council and North American Meat Institute welcomed the proposal.

Funding headaches

The third point is a change in how meat and poultry inspections are funded from appropriated dollars to user fees collected from businesses overseen by FSIS.

Congress rejected the idea in its fiscal 2018 spending bills, but the administration may try again in the president’s fiscal 2019 budget, scheduled for 12 February.

The US government shut down for the second time​ this year after funding expired.

However, the Senate approved a deal to re-open the Federal Government and Congress passed the budget agreement to extend funding until 23 March.

Staff at FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), branches of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), were impacted in the first shutdown.

The final issue is the Agricultural Act of 2014 that expires on 30 September 2018.

A farm bill has included policies related to meat and poultry safety. It is unclear whether the next iteration will contain meat and poultry safety-related provisions.

In 2008 the law created a program that allows facilities inspected by state authorities (rather than by FSIS) to ship products across state lines.

A report from Pew last year​ looked at measures that research has shown can reduce the risk that bacteria will be present on food animals at slaughter.

They range from ensuring water and feed are clean to administering vaccines and other preventive treatments.

However, the group warned that no single intervention will be entirely successful in combating all pathogens in all species.

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