FDA opines on its new food safety powers

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Large-scale outbreaks of foodborne illness have recently focused attention on the ability of the U.S. food safety system to protect the public health, writes Michael R. Taylor, the Deputy Commissioner for Foods at the FDA. In an article appearing in the latest issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, Taylor outlines both the issues that have moved the agency to action and the components of the new Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). Whether the new act will amount to more than a complicated circuit of new regulatory steps is an open question.

Perhaps most significantly, the FSMA grants the FDA the power to issue mandatory food recalls. Theoretically, this recall power will make the agency more likely to prevent, as well as to efficiently manage, outbreaks of foodborne illness such as the 2008-9 salmonella outbreak associated with peanut products. ACSH s Dr. Ruth Kava agrees that granting the FDA this level of authority makes sense, but she also acknowledges how difficult it can be to actually trace an outbreak to its source, which can result in damage to the reputation of particular foods and facilities that aren t actually to blame.

The new act will require more comprehensive preventive controls not only for domestic facilities: It will also require such controls in foreign food facilities that export products to the U.S. This, too, seems like a necessary measure, says Dr. Kava. Yet she questions whether the agency will be able to marshal enough inspectors to follow through.

Implementation of this new act will undoubtedly be a complicated process, says Dr. Kava. We have to wait and see whether it will benefit consumers,.