FRESH FOOD SAFETY:<br />Trade Groups Cheer White House Plan to Tighten Food Safety Standards

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FRESH FOOD SAFETY:<br />Trade Groups Cheer White House Plan to Tighten Food Safety Standards

07/08/2009
The Obama administration yesterday took the first step toward
overhauling and modernizing the country’s food safety system, including
stricter rules for the production of eggs, poultry, beef, leafy greens,
melons and tomatoes.
 
The new proposals, recommended by the Food Safety Working Group created by
President Obama in March, emphasize prevention, enforcement and improving
the government’s response time to food safety outbreaks with a central goal
of reducing cases of salmonella and E. coli contamination. The Food and Drug
Administration will also be charged with helping the food industry establish
better tracing systems in the event of an outbreak, to quickly pinpoint the
origins of an outbreak.
 
“There are few responsibilities more basic or more important for the
government than making sure the food our families eat is safe,: said Vice
President Joseph Biden during a White House news conference on Tuesday,
where he was joined by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius
and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “American families have enough to
worry about today. They should not have [food safety] as a concern.”
 
Noting that “[t]here isn’t a single American that isn’t impacted by our
efforts to protect the food supply,” Secretary Vilsack said, “We owe it to
the American people to … greatly enhance our food safety system, moving our
approach into the 21st century, employing the best surveillance techniques
available and ensuring that we are doing all we can to prevent illness
before it occurs.”
 
Among the working group’s specific steps designed to advance its core
principles:
 
HHS and USDA will target salmonella contamination by developing tougher
standards to protect the safety of eggs, poultry, and turkey
 
To fight the threat of E. coli, USDA will step up enforcement in beef
facilities, while the FDA will develop new industry guidance improving
protections for leafy greens, melons and tomatoes
 
Building a new national traceback and response system including clearer
industry guidance, a new unified incident command system, and improved use
of technology to deliver individual food safety alerts to consumers
 
The administration also revealed plans to strengthen the organization of
federal food safety functions, including the creation of new positions at
key food safety agencies and a continuing oversight role for the Food Safety
Working Group.
 
Various industry trade groups applauded the news, including the Food
Marketing Institute, which said it “fully support[s] the extensive effort by
the White House Food Safety Working Group to launch new and improved safety
standards to protect Americans from foodborne illness. We are pleased that
the White House will focus on prevention, rapid response, and increased and
improved communications, as this is what will be the essential factors for
ensuring food safety.”
 
The United Fresh Produce Association was also gratified to see key produce
industry objectives incorporated in the new food safety recommendations.
Noting that the changes in policy “demonstrate how the government and the
food industry can work together to make meaningful and practical food safety
improvements,” Tom Stenzel, United Fresh’s president and CEO, said the new
plan “embraces several key recommendations advanced by United Fresh to help
ensure that food safety initiatives address produce industry priorities” and
set a strong foundation for the food safety legislative work on Capitol
Hill.
 
GMA President and CEO Pamela Bailey concurred. “Food safety and consumer
confidence is the No. 1 priority for the food and beverage industry -- we
are responsible for providing our consumers with the safest manufactured
goods possible, and we take that responsibility very seriously.”
 
All three groups pledged continued support to working with the Obama
administration and Congress to enact reforms that will improve food safety,
boost consumer confidence and address the challenges posed by the food
supply.