FDA's deputy commissioner speaks on FSMA

by Laurie Gorton
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Changing the nation’s food safety practices is like turning around an aircraft carrier: It takes a long time. Regulations interpreting the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2010 (FSMA) for human foods are set to be announced in late August by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but the process started a quarter-century ago.

“FDA’s food safety focus and manner of working began a major shift in the late 1980s and 1990s as foodborne illness caused by microbiological pathogens emerged as a public health concern and a threat to public confidence in the food supply,” said Michael R. Taylor, FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, speaking at the 2015 Food and Drug Law Institute annual conference in April.

In 1995, the seafood HACCP rule established the principle that food safety depends primarily on food companies taking responsibility for preventing hazards in their operations, “not on government taking enforcing actions after problems occur,” Dr. Taylor said.

Several high-profile food contamination and foodborne illness episodes prompted the need for change, but so did the Bioterrorism Act, passed in the wake of 9/11. That law recognized FDA’s role in protecting the US food supply from threats foreign and domestic. Still, at the start of the 21st century, the food safety environment and its tools of law, science, standards, inspection and enforcement were anything but constant, this top FDA administrator admitted.

“The central lesson from these experiences is now so widely understood that it’s almost a cliché,” he said, “but it’s worth repeating: Food safety success requires a comprehensive systems approach that considers all possible pathways for contamination and in which everyone in the system understands their role and does their part.”

The new rules will “invest primary responsibility for preventing food safety problems in those who commercially produce, process and market food for consumers,” Mr. Taylor explained.

“But mainly, we need to be sure we implement FSMA in a way that meets the expectation of consumers that everyone in the commercial supply chain is doing everything they reasonably can to make the food safe,” he said.

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