WASHINGTON — The Produce Safety Project today issued a report that examines the steps taken by select European Union (EU) countries to reform their food safety data collection and analysis systems since the 1990s. Authored by Michael Batz, head of Food Safety Programs, Emerging Pathogens Institute at the University of Florida, and J. Glenn Morris, Jr., director at the Institute, the report, “Building the Science Foundation of a Modern Food Safety System,” looks at European countries with strong food safety systems and makes a number of recommendations on how to improve those in the United States.
A key recommendation of the report is the annual publication of a unified cross-agency report on tracking foodborne pathogens in humans, animals, food and feed. To be produced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the annual analyses would summarize surveillance data on human foodborne illnesses — including outbreaks and sporadic cases — and on pathogen contamination in domestic and imported animals, food and feed.
“A national annual report on food safety will actually tell us if we are making progress or not in reducing the burden of foodborne illness,” says Jim O’Hara, director of the Produce Safety Project. “It is a yardstick we don’t have now.”
The analysis would also present trends and provide the evidence basis for measuring food safety progress and include routinely updated national estimates of the incidence of foodborne illness due to major pathogens. The authors called for these reports to be written in a readable and consumer-friendly manner.
“Not only will an analysis give us a consolidated examination of the current state of affairs throughout the country, it will also require our food safety agencies to gather, organize and analyze data in a consistent and timely manner,” said Batz, co-author of the report.
The report is based on extensive research and interviews with food safety authorities in member countries of the EU, particularly Denmark, The Netherlands and the United Kingdom where reforms have focused on improving the science base and risk assessment of food-safety efforts.
“We also believe there is an advantage to be gained by creation of an independent federal institute for food safety risk analysis,” said Morris, co-author of the report. “It would be comprised of the majority of scientists and analysts currently within FDA, CDC and USDA food safety groups and tasked with supporting a risk-based food system through integrated research, data collection and analysis. That is the model from European countries with strong food-safety systems.”
Within the existing systems in the United States the report outlines a number of specific steps to improve data collection and research, some of which include:
- Revamping farm-to-table surveillance of domestic and imported food by developing a national surveillance plan and expanding collection of data on contamination of foods.
- Increasing capacity for integrated food safety analysis by developing cross-agency strategies for priority setting and attributing the burden of specific foods to overall foodborne illness.
- Better coordination of food safety research by publishing annually updated lists of prioritized research needs and increasing the role of regulators in research program priorities.
- Ensuring transparency and public participation.
- Improving effectiveness of trace-back and trace-forward data for outbreak response by expanding traceability requirements along food chain. Standardizing record-keeping and creating incentives or requirements for electronic information tracking will further help gather this data.
Copies of the report are available at www.producesafetyproject.org.
The Produce Safety Project at Georgetown University, an initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts, seeks the establishment by the Food and Drug Administration of mandatory and enforceable safety standards for domestic and imported fresh produce, from farm to fork. Our families need to have confidence that federal food-safety regulation is based on prevention, scientifically sound risk assessment and management, and coordinated integrated data collection. For more information online, visit www.producesafetyproject.org