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Commodities tied to past outbreaks need not be high-risk, produce groups tell FDA

by Joan Murphy | June 13, 2011

WASHINGTON — Facilities that handle certain commodities associated with past foodborne illness outbreaks should not be automatically deemed high risk under the Food & Drug Administration’s Food Safety Modernization Act, according to trade association representatives who testified at an FDA public meeting June 6.

The FDA held a daylong public meeting on the new law’s inspection and compliance provisions at its headquarters in Silver Spring, MD. Food industry representatives, consumer groups and others discussed hot-button compliance issues in the hopes of swaying regulators as they draft rules to implement the new food safety law that will take effect Jan. 4.

The new law requires increased inspections of high-risk facilities, and the FDA needs to set criteria for determining which facility falls under this category.

The criteria should be specific to an individual facility, such as its compliance history, its preventative controls and its certifications, said Kathy Means, vice president of government relations and public affairs for the Produce Marketing Association.

“Even if a particular commodity has been associated with an outbreak, that alone cannot determine if a facility merits more frequent inspections,” Ms. Means said. “That determination can only be made based on a more [comprehensive] review and ultimately on the risk associated with an individual facility.”

Other guiding factors may include data from past inspections and seasonality, she said.

Robert Guenther, senior vice president for public policy at United Fresh Produce Association, also stressed the need for the FDA to look at operations, not just outbreak data, when identifying high-risk facilities.

FDA is looking into ways to provide technical assistance to help companies comply with upcoming food-safety regulations, said Mike Taylor, deputy commissioner for foods at the FDA, who spoke at the meeting. The FDA sees this particularly for the produce industry, where thousands of companies will have to comply with new federal regulations for the first time, he added.