Food Safety Czar Works To Reduce Toll of Food-Borne Illness
David Acheson, FDA assistant commissioner for food safety, is undertaking a "thorough rethinking of how to reduce the toll from food-borne illness," the Washington Post reports.
Acheson, who was named to the position in the wake of several recent food-safety incidents, said initially, he will work to speed the process by which investigators trace food-borne illness outbreaks back to their source. He also wants to collaborate with the food production and processing industry, as well as academia, to calculate where in the distribution system contamination is most likely to take place so guidelines can be established to address those weaknesses, the Post reports.
According to Acheson, the volume of imported food might require FDA to seek limited extra authority from Congress, but increasing funding to conduct more inspections of food "wouldn't buy you any fewer outbreaks or any less illness. It would just buy you a bunch of headaches."
Acheson said FDA instead must concentrate on the foods and nations that pose the biggest risk (Weiss, Washington Post, 7/4).
In related news, the Washington Times on Thursday examined how the food industry is working to regain consumers' trust after several "high profile" products were recalled over the past year because of contamination.
A survey completed in January by the Food Marketing Institute showed that 66% of consumers are confident that the food sold in grocery stores is safe, down from 82% the previous year.
According to the Times, FDA is testing a program that would use photos of the most dangerous recalled goods to let consumers know exactly which products are affected. FMI is advocating for producers to improve their communication with grocery stores in the event of a recall.
In addition, the institute is expanding its safety certification program for companies exporting food to the U.S. Several private companies have developed products that allow consumers to see the steps taken to get food from the "farm to the grocery store," the Post reports.
The Dutch firm Corporate Express and California technology company YottaMark have created a line of products called HarvestMark that includes a code growers place on produce packaging. HarvestMark was designed to be used in the event of a recall to let consumers check whether a container is affected.
According to YottaMark CEO Elliott Grant, the company has found that consumers are more confident in the safety of food when they know where it has been.
In addition, IBM has developed Veggie Vision, a scanner that can tell consumers where and when a product was grown and picked. Some European grocers use a similar system.
Dennis Francis, vice president of label development at Corporate Express, said he expects such information to eventually be required by the government the same way nutritional information is. "We're moving toward that right now," Francis said, adding, "This is in response to what the consumers really want, and mandates are always behind consumer demand" (Haberkorn, Washington Times, 7/5).