HHS Unveils Plan to Strengthen, Update Food Safety Efforts

Plan uses integrated collaborative approach to meet demands of a global economy to protect American consumers

HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt today announced a comprehensive initiative by the Food and Drug Administration designed to bolster efforts to better protect the nation's food supply. The Food Protection Plan proposes the use of science and a risk-based approach to ensure the safety of domestic and imported foods eaten by American consumers.

"America's food supply is among the safest in the world, and we enjoy unprecedented choice and convenience in filling the cupboard. Yet, we face new challenges to meet both the changing demands of a global economy and consumers' expectations," Secretary Leavitt said. "This Food Protection Plan will implement a strategy of prevention, intervention and response to build safety into every step of the food supply chain."

HHS Deputy Secretary Tevi Troy and FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach, M.D., presented the Food Protection Plan at a press conference in Washington, D.C.

"FDA must keep pace with this transformation so that the safety of the nation's food supply remains second to none," said Commissioner von Eschenbach. "The Food Protection Plan calls for effective action before an outbreak occurs."

The Food Protection Plan, which focuses on both domestic and imported food, complements the Import Safety Action Plan delivered by Secretary Leavitt to the President earlier today that recommends how the U.S. can improve the safety of all imported products. This year, $2 trillion worth of goods will be imported into the U.S., and experts predict that amount will triple by 2015. The Import Safety Action Plan lays out a road map with short- and long-term recommendations to enhance product safety at every step of the import life cycle. Taken together, the two plans will improve efforts by the public and private sector to enhance the safety of a wide array of products used by American consumers.

Advances in food production technology, rapid methods of food distribution, and globalization have transformed supermarket shelves and restaurant menus, broadened the tastes of consumers, and challenged the existing food protection framework.

"Although our agency clearly needs to maintain and enhance its response capacity, the primary goal is to prevent contaminated food from ever reaching the consumer," said von Eschenbach.

The plan is premised on preventing harm before it can occur, intervening at key points in the food production system, and responding immediately when problems are identified. Within these three overarching areas of protection, the plan contains a number of action steps as well as a set of legislative proposals. Taken together, these efforts will provide a food protection framework that ensures that the U.S. food supply remains safe.

To strengthen its efforts to prevent contamination, FDA plans to strengthen support of food industry efforts to build safety into products manufactured either domestically or imported. The FDA will work with industry, state, local, and foreign governments to identify vulnerabilities and will look to industry to mitigate those vulnerabilities, using effective methods such as preventive controls.

The plan's intervention element emphasizes focusing inspections and sampling based on risk at the manufacturer and processor level, for both domestic and imported products, that will help verify the preventive controls. This approach is complemented by targeted, risk-based inspections at the points where foreign food products enter the United States, including ports.

The plan calls for enhancing FDA's information systems related to both domestic and imported foods to better respond to food safety threats and communicate during an emergency.

The Food Protection Plan's three core elements--prevention, intervention, and response--incorporate four cross-cutting principles for comprehensive food protection along the entire production chain:

Focus on risks over a product's life cycle from production to consumption;
Target resources to achieve greatest risk reduction;
Use interventions that address both food safety (unintentional contamination) and food defense (deliberate contamination); and
Use science and employ modern technology, including enhanced information technology systems.
The Food Protection Plan is available at http://www.fda.gov/oc/initiatives/advance/food/plan.html.

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