WASHINGTON – The Food and Drug Administration (F.D.A.) should implement a risk-based approach to pinpoint where along the production, distribution and handling chains there is the greatest potential for contamination and other problems in order to more proactively tackle food-safety problems, states a new report by the Institute of Medicine and National Research Council.

The report states that F.D.A. would then be able to direct appropriate amounts of its resources and attention to those high-risk areas and increase the chances of catching problems before they turn into widespread outbreaks.

The study offers F.D.A. a blueprint for developing a risk-based model. It also outlines several organizational steps the agency should take to improve the efficiency of its many food safety activities, such as increasing coordination with state and other federal agencies that share responsibility for protecting the nation's food supply. The study also stated Congress should consider amending the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to explicitly provide the authority F.D.A. needs to fulfill its food safety mission.

The study also calls for a centralized food-safety data center outside of the regulatory agencies to collect information and conduct rapid, sophisticated assessments of food-safety risks and appropriate policy interventions.

“As recent illnesses traced to produce underscore, foodborne diseases cause significant suffering, so it’s imperative that our food safety system functions effectively at all levels,” said committee chair Robert Wallace, professor, College of Public Health, University of Iowa, Iowa City. “F.D.A. uses some risk assessment and management tactics, but the agency's approach is too often reactive and lacks a systematic focus on prevention. Our report's recommendations aim to help F.D.A. achieve a comprehensive vision for proactively protecting against threats to the nation's food supply.”

Congress requested the study, which was sponsored by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Click here for copies of the study.