FDA Safety Rules for Juice, Seafood Industries Don’t Affect Peanuts

Source of Article:  http://www.infozine.com/news/stories/op/storiesView/sid/35309/

 

Monday, April 13, 2009 ::

By Emily Stephenson - Juice, seafood, meat and poultry producers must take steps to identify and eliminate spots where salmonella and other bacteria could contaminate products.

 

Washington, D.C. - infoZine - No such regulations govern most foods under the Food and Drug Administration's jurisdiction, including peanuts.

Some experts say a mandatory, industry-wide Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points safety program - known as HACCP - could help prevent salmonella outbreaks like the one that has sickened more than 690 people and killed nine since September.

"FDA is going to have to implement HACCPs for high-risk products," said Martin Cole, director of the National Center for Food Safety and Technology. He said peanuts, also blamed for a 2007 salmonella outbreak, are high-risk.

"You've had a couple of outbreaks in the last two years for that product, so that should be governed by HACCP."

The seven-point system, first used by Pillsbury in the 1960s to produce safe foods for astronauts, requires identifying steps in the production process in which contamination could occur and pre-empting problems.

HACCP also requires testing to guarantee contamination points are eliminated and extensive record-keeping.

The FDA has been criticized for failing to enact preventive measures and avert outbreaks. The agency requires only that seafood and juice manufacturers follow HACCPs.

FDA spokeswoman Stephanie Kwisnek said in an e-mail the agency could expand its HACCP requirements to other industries, as the Department of Agriculture has done for meat and poultry - the only foods under its jurisdiction.

"HACCP-style planning is already a requirement for all meat and poultry plants, and it should be a prerequisite for all food processors that want to sell food in the U.S.," said Caroline Smith DeWaal, director of food safety at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, in March 11 testimony before a House subcommittee.

The process is now standard for large manufacturers in most industries, Cole said.

Peanut Corp. of America, identified as the cause of the peanut-related salmonella outbreak, does not appear to have followed an effective plan.

A 2002 Nestlé audit of the Peanut Corp.'s Blakely, Ga., plant said it had no HACCP plan. Auditors in 2006 determined that the company's Plainview, Texas, plant's plan didn't address all hazards. The audits were released at a March hearing held by a House subcommittee.

In the 2006 audit, Nestlé recommended that a plant manager take a HACCP training course to better understand hazards that could affect peanuts during treatment.

A later audit by a private organization said the Peanut Corp. did follow a safety plan. But when FDA inspectors entered the company's plants, they found obvious safety violations, including dead rodents and insects, animal droppings and a leaking roof.

Juice is one of only two industries under FDA with mandatory HACCPs.

A 1996 E. coli outbreak traced to unpasteurized apple juice and two later salmonella outbreaks caused by citrus juices resulted in more than 570 illnesses and two deaths.

The FDA required HACCP plans and told producers beginning in 2002 to reduce pathogens by a set amount.

Kristen Gunter, executive director of the Florida Citrus Producers Association, said the citrus industry had little difficulty conforming to the FDA's standards.

"We'd never been considered high-risk. We weren't, you know, the seafood industry; we weren't the poultry industry," she explained. "Once everybody got their heads around what HACCP principles were being applied, the juice industry embraced the program.

"The application of HACCP principles is a system to produce safe and sanitary product, and you can't argue with those principles."

In the years after the FDA issued its juice rule, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have not listed juice as a major source of illness in annual reports. A 2003 report cites decreases in E. coli and salmonella following reforms, including reassessing HACCP plans, in the meat and poultry industries.

But some of those improvements have not been sustained, according to a 2007 report, and there are other problems with mandatory HACCPs. The FDA partners with inspectors in some states to regulate the 44,000 producers under its jurisdiction, but the agency is overworked and understaffed.

The FDA has said that the Plainview, Texas, plant linked to the current salmonella outbreak operated for years without being inspected.

And Steve Cockram, technical director for the Growers' Cooperative Grape Juice Co., said he thinks FDA rules leave too much room for interpretation. His company has argued with New York inspectors about how best to address hazards.

Cole said the cost of establishing a HACCP varies depending on plants' size and safety practices. For small plants with no safety plan, conforming could be time-consuming.

Juice plants must typically train an employee in HACCP procedures, and some also hire outside auditors or inspectors, Cockram said.

Tomato growers in Florida imposed their own food-safety program, which does not include a HACCP and is overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture instead of FDA. The program went into place last summer.

 

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