Registry a valuable tool in food safety efforts: F.D.A.

by Bryan Salvage
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SILVER SPRING, MD. – In its first seven months of operation, more than 100 food-safety reports were submitted by the industry to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's (F.D.A.’s) new Reportable Food Registry. The registry, which was mandated by Congress, is a new system that requires manufacturers, processors, packers and distributors to immediately report to the government safety problems with food and animal feed, including pet food, that are likely to result in serious health consequences.

"The F.D.A.'s new reporting system has already proven itself an invaluable tool to help prevent contaminated food from reaching the public," said Michael Taylor, F.D.A. Deputy Commissioner for Foods.

According to a study summarizing the registry's first seven months of operation (September 2009 -March 2010), 125 primary reports were logged – initial reports about a safety concern with a food or animal feed (including food ingredients) – and 1,638 subsequent reports from suppliers or recipients of a food or feed for which a primary report had been submitted, from both domestic and foreign sources. These reports help F.D.A. and the food industry locate hazardous foods in the supply chain and prevent them from reaching consumers.

Two notable studies first identified through the Registry prompted the following:

  • A February 2010 recall of hydrolyzed vegetable protein (H.V.P.), without any report of illness. More than 1,000 industry reports specifically for products containing H.V.P. resulted in the removal of 177 products from commerce.
  • A November 2009 recall of products containing sulfites but not labeled as such. More than 100 reports regarding the inadvertent use of an ingredient containing sulfites in two nationally distributed prepared side dishes that were not labeled as containing sulfites resulted in their removal without any reports of illness.

Among the 125 primary reports, Salmonella accounted for 37% of hazards, undeclared allergens or intolerances accounted for 35%, and Listeria monocytogenes accounted for 13%. Among the 11 different commodity categories involved were: 14 animal feed or pet food, 12 seafood, 11 spices and seasonings, and 10 dairy products. Because the Registry has been operational for only a short period, it is too early to draw inferences concerning patterns of food and feed adulteration.

"Industry is increasingly detecting contamination incidents through its own testing, and F.D.A. access to this information permits us to better target our inspection resources and verify that appropriate corrective measures have been taken," Mr. Taylor said. "Ensuring that the American food supply is safe is a top priority of the F.D.A., and the Reportable Food Registry strengthens our ability to help prevent foodborne illness."

Under legislation enacted in 2007 that created the Registry, industry must report foods or feeds that present a reasonable probability of serious adverse health consequences or death to humans or animals to the F.D.A. within 24 hours.

If information indicates a food or feed product may have been intentionally adulterated, the F.D.A. immediately notifies the Department of Homeland Security.

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