William F. Balistreri, MD

Disclosures

February 08, 2016

In This Article

What Can Be Done?

The previously mentioned report by Crowe and colleagues[10] emphasizes that food industries and public health departments and agencies can develop and implement more effective ways to identify and trace contaminated foods linked to multistate outbreaks. The report also describes how the food industries and local, state, and federal agencies collaborate to investigate outbreaks. Lessons learned during outbreak investigations can inform industry and government efforts to improve food safety practices and regulations and prevent future outbreaks. Focusing on foods that are prominent in multistate outbreaks can guide industry and government in targeting interventions. Any strategy proposed to stem the tide of illness due to eating contaminated food must be multifaceted, incorporating individual, governmental, and corporate accountability.

Individual Accountability – Be Safe at Home

Many foodborne illnesses occur while eating at home; thus, there are multiple measures that could be taken to ward off pathogen contamination and acquisition during food preparation and food handling: washing hands before preparing or eating food, avoiding undercooked hamburger or raw shellfish, taking care to avoid cross-contamination of raw meat, and washing produce thoroughly.

In addition, the CDC offers multiple resources on Food Safety, which may assist individual efforts, including facts on food safety, foodborne pathogens, and foodborne disease outbreaks; an overview of kitchen safety tools; assistance in tracking foodborne illness and investigating outbreaks; resources for environmental health practitioners; and myths and facts about home food safety.

Governmental Prevention and Monitoring

The idea of prevention is not new. However, there has been a renewed, intensified federal focus on strategies to improve food safety and reduce foodborne disease, including the new Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) regulations from the FDA and the new USDA standards designed to reduce contamination of produce.[22,23] The FSMA's aim is to transform a regulatory system that traditionally has been reactive into one that instead acts to prevent food contamination.

FSMA. In 2010, Congress passed the largest overhaul of federal food safety regulations in 70 years. It sought to grant the FDA, which is responsible for the oversight of produce safety, greater authority to hold food companies responsible for keeping plants clean and reducing the risk for foodborne pathogens. Signed into law by President Obama in January 2011, the FSMA enables the FDA to better protect public health by strengthening the food safety system. The rules apply to foods for humans, pets, and livestock, and require companies to draw up and implement written plans for keeping food safe. Companies must identify hazards in manufacturing, devise measures to reduce contamination risk, and install methods to verify that the controls are working.

FSMA directs the FDA, working with a wide range of public and private partners, to build a new system of food safety oversight—one focused on applying the best available science, best practices, and good common sense to prevent the problems that can make people sick.[23] FDA will establish science-based standards for the safe production and harvesting of fruits and vegetables to minimize the risk for serious illnesses or death and set standards for the safe transportation of food.

Although food manufacturers have strict protocols to prevent bacteria and allergens from contaminating their product, the FSMA rules grant the FDA new powers to improve the safe production and harvesting of produce by creating standards for environmental factors, including staff hygiene, microbial levels in agricultural water, uses of animal waste in growing foods, and equipment sanitation.[23] The produce regulations establish standards for growing, harvesting, packing, and storing produce on US farms, and include requirements for water quality, employee health and hygiene, and manure and compost use.

Safety of imported food. In 2013, the USDA estimated that imported food accounted for 19% of the US food supply, including about 52% and 22% of the fresh fruits and vegetables, respectively. Thus, an important area for improving food safety is through enhanced ability to monitor quality and trace imported foods. Variable food traceability standards in other countries have made this difficult, so FSMA grants the FDA new import authority and mandates, including importer food safety accountability, third-party certification of food safety compliance for high-risk foods, and increased authority to refuse entry of imported foods.[24]

USDA-FSIS. In 2013, investigators linked an outbreak of Salmonella serotype Heidelberg infections in over 600 individuals to the handling or consumption of chicken from a single producer.[8,25] In January 2015, partially in response to this outbreak, USDA-FSIS proposed new poultry production facility performance standards designed to reduce Salmonella and Campylobacter contamination of chicken and turkey parts during slaughter and processing.[26,27,28] In addition, new USDA-FSIS record-keeping requirements for beef producers will expedite and streamline the tracking of foodborne illnesses to their source. These guidelines take into account the latest science and practical considerations from recent outbreaks to assist establishments in producing safer food.[26,29]

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