WASHINGTON — Noting the complexity of modern food production practices, Dr. John H. Hanlin, vice-president of food safety for Supervalu Inc., Minneapolis, called for the realignment and modernization of the U.S. food safety system. Specifically, Mr. Hanlin said part of the program should be modeled after the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s risk-based surveillance and enforcement program and focus on other agricultural commodities besides meat, poultry and eggs.
"In other words, expand U.S.D.A.’s risk-based inspection system to include commodities that today receive minimal inspection due to budget challenges at the F.D.A.," he said in testimony at a hearing before the House of Representative’s Agriculture committee.
He added that such a change would push food safety farther upstream in the supply chain and reduce overall public exposure to pathogens.
"What we propose … is to focus U.S.D.A. risk-based efforts against improving the safety of all food commodities, particularly those commodities that are consumed in the raw state or those that are cooked or pasteurized and eaten without a further microbial inactivation step, e.g. peanuts, almonds, cooked chicken," he said.
Mr. Hanlin said he believed the proposed model would work if the nation created a single food agency or maintained dual jurisdictional responsibilities within the U.S.D.A. and the F.D.A.
"In a dual role we would envision F.D.A. providing the food safety leadership further down the supply chain, e.g. the manufacture of frozen pizza, entrees, canned soup, broths, sauces, snacks, seasonings, etc."
He said the proposed model would enable the agency (U.S.D.A.) to deploy resources against the greatest food safety risks.
"Imagine for a moment being able to redeploy the FTE resource currently inspecting a facility making a frozen, fully cooked, cheeseburger sandwich … and re-training the inspector to inspect a peanut facility or a spinach farm just prior to the harvest," he said.
In closing, Mr. Hanlin said government and industry understand where the food safety risks are.
"We must look beyond the meat and poultry divide and focus on food safety systems across all categories of commodities using a risk-based approach," he said. "There is nothing more important than safe food to those of us in the food business and all of us as consumers."