Report calls for local, state, federal food safety integration

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4/21/2009-A new report produced by Dept. of Health Policy at The George Washington Univ. School of Public Health and Health Services in partnership the Association of Food and Drug Officials (AFDO), the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO), and the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO), underscores the need to repair gaps in state and local food safety programs and integrate them better with federal food safety efforts. The report—Stronger Partnerships for Safer Food: An Agenda for Strengthening State and Local Roles in the Nation’s Food Safety System—calls for leadership by Congress and the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services (HHS) to build an integrated national food safety system that makes effective use of the best science and all available public resources to prevent foodborne illness.

Although food products are regulated on the federal level by the FDA and the USDA, local and state health departments have long been the backbone of the nation’s food safety system, with primary responsibility for illness surveillance, response to outbreaks and regulation of food safety in restaurants, grocery stores and many food processing plants across America. At the local level alone, the report points out, there are approximately 3,000 public health agencies involved in food safety. State-level departments of health and agriculture, as well as public health laboratories in most states, add to the complexity and fragmentation of the system, as does the important role of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which interacts with agencies at all levels.

“The report highlights how local health departments protect people every day by helping to keep their food supply safe, whether they purchase food in a restaurant or store,” said Robert M. Pestronk, Executive Director of NACCHO. “At the same time, the report reinforces the need for an effective partnership among, and a greater allocation of resources to, federal, state and local government agencies. Staff capacities are eroding at an alarming rate due to the economic downturn and the graying of the workforce.”

In addition to outlining the current roles of federal, state, and local agencies in protecting Americans against foodborne illness, the report makes 27 detailed findings on the strengths and weaknesses in the current food safety system. For example, the authors note progress in how federal, state, and local agencies collaborate to detect foodborne outbreaks but also find that state and local agencies are hampered in their response to and prevention of outbreaks by lack of focused federal leadership to build an integrated system, chronic underfunding, wide disparities in capacity, and diversity of practices in all areas of food safety, and barriers to information sharing and collaboration. The report makes 19 specific recommendations for strengthening state and local roles and building an integrated national food safety system that works effectively to prevent foodborne illness.




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