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Natural Foods Merchandiser

IFT attendees learn food safety’s impact on industry and consumer


The “Food Safety in an Emerging Regulatory Environment: Impact on Food Industry and the Consumer” seminar on Sunday, July 17 packed a room of almost 500 people at the 2010 International Food Technology conference here in Chicago. Attendees learned how Costco is running its food safety programs and how the federal government plans to make the nation’s food supply safer.

The Food and Drug Administration is working at an unprecedented pace to revamp the nation’s food safety system, said Georgia Carole Ravitz, a lawyer with Arent Fox LLP in Washington, D.C. “In the past 20 years I have never seen the FDA this active with food safety issues,” she said.

A paradigm shift from reactive to proactive is what is guiding the FDA as it rebuilds the food safety net. You can expect to see more of the new food safety initiatives to mimic the FDA’s drug programs, Ravitz said. For example, retailers should be aware of new policies like tainted food being reported within 24 hours.

She also pointed to the agency’s quick response to the Gulf oil spill. “By June 29 [the FDA] had announced a new program [on seafood safety] and were ready to implement; this is extremely fast paced for the FDA,” Summer said.

The FDA has asked for $318 million for its food safety initiatives such as:

  • Rule making on menu labeling

  • Rule making on imported foods and import tolerances

  • Rule making on front of package labeling

  • Produce regulation (expect to see it become more commodity specific, Ravitz says)

  • More facility inspections, warning letters and seizure

Food safety is a non-negotiable priority at Issaquah, Wash.-based Costco stores, according to Christine Summers, the company’s director of food safety. “If there’s a food safety outbreak, it can jeopardize a retailer’s brand. But most important, what [Costco] thinks about first is what is going on in Mom’s head and is this product safe enough for a mom?”

To meet these expectations, Costco requires its vendors to show that they have the same requirements for their suppliers that Costco has for them—like hazard analysis and critical control points. Because of these requirements, Summers stressed that traceability needs to be available to all sized companies.

As the FDA ramps up its food safety efforts, Summers stressed that the system needs to be as consumer oriented as possible. “We need to begin with how consumers look and think [about food safety] and then work backwards,” she said.

To make food safety manageable for retailers of all sizes, Summers said a single system of information that encompasses federal, state and local agencies is crucial.

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