Advice to Overhaul Food Safety System Goes Unheeded

>> Sunday, March 1, 2009

It seems various studies conducted since 1949 have called for the integration of all federal food safety activities into a single, centrally unified framework. In 2003 the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council issued Scientific Criteria to Ensure Safe Food that again highlighted needed improvement to achieve a science-based food safety system.

In 1998, the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council issued the report Ensuring Safe Food from Production to Consumption, called for integration and overhaul.

Food borne illnesses plagued consumers long before the FDA’s existence. The FDA dates to 1906 out of the Food and Drugs Act and was primarily concerned with regulating domestically produced and distributed foods and drugs.

Many say the FDA is being stretched to its limits, and the increase in the number of food safety issues bear this out. There simply are not enough inspectors to adequately protect us. Yet the FDA keeps claiming that everything is just fine. President Obama, along with the rest of us, is not buying it. In his own words: "I think the FDA has not been able to catch some of these things as quickly as I expect them to catch them, so we're going to be doing a complete review of FDA operations," Obama told Matt Lauer during an interview broadcast on NBC's "Today" show.

The major reason why this broken system has gotten so broken is because it polices itself. In fact, the Peanut Corporation of America, responsibility for the latest salmonella outbreak claims it was considered in top shape by private investigators.

One of the private inspectors “gave the plant an overall superior rating,” the peanut company’s statement said. “The other rated the plant as ‘meets or exceeds audit expectations (Acceptable-Excellent) ratings.’ ” How could this be? Very shortly after these glowing reports eight people died and 600 others were sickened by product coming from this very same plant.

Reports from ex-employees tell of filth, a roof that leaked rain water which drained all the filth from building materials on its way into the building. Holes were reported in the peanut bags which were obviously caused by rats.

This salmonella outbreak is just the latest, and it represents the full-scale breakdown of a patchwork food safety system.

Some members of Congress are calling for and writing laws to split the FDA into two separate entities. In my opinion this is just a band-aid. Something to give the appearance that Congress is addressing the problem. What needs to be done is to hire more inspectors, develop a more comprehensive program and schedule of inspections and give the FDA the ability to immediately halt operations.

One interesting idea comes from a blog called ‘Dad Talk’ and I immediately found it to have some merit. Create a Citizen Food Corps. To add another layer of inspections. The CFC would be made up of concerned Americans, trained in safety and inspection at the hands of whatever food agency emerges from the ashes.

The key to success of would be to allow unannounced inspections to food plants around the nation complete with photographs. This is our food, we have the right to be able to walk into our nation’s kitchens, as it were, and inspect what we are going to eat. Such transparency would quickly draw attention to problem food makers. Companies that receive a bad report or refuse access to CFC inspectors would face immediate investigation by professional food regulators.

The corporate upside to being inspected more often would lead to a renewed trust in America’s food supply. This alone should be motivation enough for this idea to take flight.

The number of people who have died from trusting food processors is unacceptable and preventable. We have been calling for something to be done for decades. Dont you think something should finally be done about it?


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