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FDA Builds on History, Tangles with Food-Safety Politics
Source of Article:
By Paul Kita - In recent years, supermarkets beefed up their organic food sections, farmers markets trumpeted free-range poultry and restaurants championed local produce on their menus. Americans dumped Betty Crocker for Rachel Ray and began tossing a bounty of new ingredients into their traditional meat-and-potatoes recipes. To appease their cravings for something different, the United States is importing more foreign food products than ever before.
Washington, D.C. - Scripps Howard Foundation Wire - infoZine - But as the taste of the average American consumer evolves, who is ensuring the safety of all those adventurous cooks and hungry consumers?
Since last year, it has been difficult to look at a bag of fresh spinach or a Taco Bell without remembering headlines from grizzly news reports.
"3 Children In Md. Sick With E. Coli From Spinach: Hagerstown Woman's Death Is Investigated," read the headline of a Sept. 23, 2006, article in the Washington Post. The outbreak, eventually traced to a farm in Central California, killed three people and caused 204 more to become ill.
"100 years later, the Food Industry Is Still 'The Jungle,'" read the headline of a Jan. 2 New York Times editorial, after 71 people were seized with a similar E. coli-related illness after eating iceberg lettuce at Taco Bell restaurants.
As these events unfolded, the Food and Drug Administration, the primary protector of the U.S. food supply, tried to stamp out further illness as well as criticism it was not doing its job. "Often the agency is stuck reacting to a problem that has already occurred," said Caroline Smith-DeWaal, director of food safety at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, and author of "Is Our Food Safe?" "They don't have the inspectors that allow them to go into the processors in advance, identify problems and prevent problems."
How the system works, or doesn't
The FDA supervises 80 percent of all foods consumed in the United States. The U.S. Department of Agriculture presides over the remaining 20 percent - meat, poultry and certain egg products - under the Meat Inspection Act and the Poultry Products Inspection Act of 1957.
In addition to working with USDA, the FDA also works with 13 other regulatory agencies: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; the Food Safety and Inspection Service; the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service; the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration; the Agricultural Marketing Service; the Agricultural Research Service; the National Marine Fisheries Service; the Environmental Protection Agency; the Federal Trade Commission; the Department of Homeland Security; the National Agricultural Statistics Service; the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Furthermore, a host of congressional and advisory committees supervise the agency's actions.
The FDA - operating on a $1.5 billion 2007 budget - argues it can navigate efficiently through this alphabet soup, continuously cross-checking with other agencies and sharing the burden of monitoring an entire nation's food supply.
Critics of the FDA, however, say the agency that began with a single chemist has burgeoned into a regulatory monolith so large it has grown overly bureaucratic and inefficient.
On average, Americans spend 25 percent of their budgets on products regulated by the FDA. In addition to most food products, the agency also watches over human and animal drugs, medical devices, microwave ovens, cell phones, lasers, magnetic resonance imaging machines, cosmetics and animal feed.
But the FDA's broad oversight results in a see-sawing of resources, said Joseph Mendelson, legal director for the Center for Food Safety, a non-profit public interest and environmental organization.
"The FDA is overwhelmed with pharmaceuticals and biologics to the extent that it ends up giving the agency an institutional bias to those issues as opposed to the food issues," Mendelson said.
From ports to farms, inspection rules vary
The division of responsibilities among agencies has resulted in spotty inspections of American food establishments and a porous defense at U.S. ports, critics say.
"The FDA is lacking inspectors domestically, it's lacking on-farm controls, its lacking at imports. You name it, it's not there," DeWaal said. "The agency is really a shell that has the responsibility but not the wherewithal to actually improve food safety."
DeWaal provided an example of a frozen pizza factory.
"The USDA will inspect the pepperoni pizza line every day. The FDA will inspect the cheese pizza line every five to 10 years. It would be very easy for the pepperoni pizza inspector to walk over and check the cheese pizza line, but today they're not allowed to," DeWaal said.
The same problem exists at U.S. ports, DeWaal said. In 2006, the FDA inspected only 1.06 percent of all imported foreign foods. Although the partnerships between the FDA and other agencies are intended to smother food-borne illness like a blanket, they instead create gaps in the structure, DeWaal said. While inspectors may be at the scene of a suspect food shipment or facility, because their jurisdiction is limited, they cannot conduct a full inspection.
In addition, the FDA has limited power over food safety at farms, where the recent E. coli outbreaks originated. The FDA can pressure farmers to follow a list of guidelines, but the safety of produce ultimately rests in farmers' hands.
Reform efforts
A January 2007 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office - the investigative arm of Congress - listed the status of food safety as part of its High Risk Series report for the first time.
The annual report lists things the government needs to do better. Transforming the way the FDA manages food joins critical U.S. government issues such as Medicaid, NASA's budget and improvements to homeland security. The language in the report mirrors much of the recent criticism aimed at the FDA.
"Any food contamination could undermine consumer confidence in the government's ability to ensure the safety of the U.S. food supply, as well as cause severe economic consequences," the report states. "The current fragmented federal system has caused inconsistent oversight, ineffective coordination, and the inefficient use of resources."
Two U.S. politicians are pushing for legislation this year that will consolidate and streamline the FDA's food regulation power, eliminating what they consider to be unnecessary overlap. "Last fall, our country experienced a staggering number of recalls and food-borne illness outbreaks," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., who introduced the Safe Food Act in February. The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. "Clearly, the system is broken, and Congress needs to act to protect the public health." On Feb. 8, for the first time in six years, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, FDA and Related Agencies met to confront food safety.
"Food safety threats have evolved since our original food safety laws were enacted," said DeLauro, the new subcommittee chair, at the meeting. "Then, our protections focused on contamination, in sanitation and diseased animals. Today's threats are constantly changing. They are microbial hazards, bacteria, viruses, and it is incumbent upon this subcommittee to ensure our food safety system, and the manner in which it is funded, evolves with those threats."
Manufacturers' representatives endorsed changes, but they and Rep. Jessie Jackson Jr., D-Ill., urged a cautious approach.
"A federal model for oversight of food safety should be addressed as a 21st century challenge," Jackson said, quoting the GAO study. "I only added it should not lead us to an 18th century solution."
Each year, 76 million people become sick, more than 325,000 people are hospitalized and 5,000 people die from food-borne illness, according to the CDC. Harmful food products account for between $10 billion and $83 billion annually in medical expenses.
In conjunction with similar legislation drafted by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., DeLauro's proposal attempts to peel away the FDA's multi-layered bureaucracy, consolidate its power and reduce the number of food-borne illnesses.
The Safe Food Act would combine the powers of 15 governmental agencies into one Food Safety Administration, eliminating what DeLauro considers conflicts of interest.
"One branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture inspects meat on behalf of consumers while another helps market it on behalf of producers," her legislation states. "The Center for Veterinary Medicine within the FDA receives fees from the animal drug industry to review and approve animal drugs that can enter the human food supply via meat and poultry." In addition to consolidating responsibilities, the Safe Food Act would divide food production into categories and assign a set frequency for inspections.
Slaughterhouses, considered Category 1 establishments, would be the most frequently inspected, facing almost continuous observation. Food Safety Administration representatives would visit Category 2 firms, such as a poultry processing plant, daily. At Category 5 firms - food trucks or storage sites - inspectors would check for food safety standards at least annually. Critics of the FDA say the agency also has less muscle to conduct inspections of foreign food suppliers and distributors at their source. DeLauro's legislation calls for an amplification of resources at U.S. ports.
The bill also calls for the Food Safety Administration to have the authority to seize products suspected of bearing food-borne illness and find those responsible for the outbreak through a "traceback" system.

Current food safety measures
Although the Food and Drug Administration does not comment on pending legislation, an agency spokesman said many of the bill's proposals are already in place. The spokesman said it was agency policy that he not be named.
The FDA focuses its inspections on high-risk threats to the food supply, hoping to stop food-borne illness before it spreads. Because the agency does not inspect every food establishment on a set timetable, it has created the Prior Notice Center as a safety net. The center, which operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, works with the U.S. Custom Service and Border Protection to contain dangerous foods as well as block them from entering the country. In addition, the CDC recently began a traceback system under the Food Emergency Response Network. After authorities discover the source of an infected food product, the FDA can take action, ranging from a strongly worded letter to prison sentences for those responsible.
DeLauro has introduced her Safe Food Act several times since the late 1990s. With a Democratic majority and the recent outbreaks of food-borne illnesses, DeLauro said she is hoping for action. Although she does not have an exact estimate on how long a consolidation of food safety agencies would take, she said it could be accomplished for a "minimal cost." But one former FDA commissioner argues that a consolidated agency is not the answer. "I know that several very good people in Congress keep thinking that the solution is an organizational or structural issue. I don't think that that's the issue at all," said Dr. Jane E. Henney, who was FDA commissioner from January 1999 to January 2001.
Instead, Henney said she recommended untangling agricultural committees from the FDA.
"The congressional appropriations people sit there, and they're given an allocation of money. So the Department of Agriculture gets funded first, and what's left over, it seems to me, goes to the FDA. So the FDA gets the short shrift of the resource allocation, even though it's got about 80 percent of the food supply to regulate," Henney said.

The history of food regulation
The modern regulatory agency began in 1862 when President Abraham Lincoln appointed Charles M. Wetherill to head the Bureau of Chemistry in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Spurred by the slaughterhouse horrors of Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle," President Theodore Roosevelt augmented the responsibilities of the bureau in June 1906 with the simultaneous passage of the Food and Drugs Act and the Meat Inspection Act.
After the deadly "wonder drug" Sulfanilamide killed 107 people in 1937, Congress further strengthened the FDA's role by passing the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. The law required companies to prove the safety of new drugs before placing them on the market - a primary FDA responsibility today. Over the last 20 years, the FDA has evolved rapidly due to political and consumer pressures.
Congress passed the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act in 1990, requiring lists of ingredients and nutritional content directly on product packaging. Words like "low-fat" and "light" were soon visible on supermarket shelves. In 1997, President Clinton signed the Food Safety Initiative, laying the groundwork for the Food Outbreak Response Coordinating Group. The multi-agency group aims to improve food safety standards and fight food-borne illnesses. Most recently, after the events of Sept. 11, the Bush administration clamped down on food safety and defense with the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Response Act of 2002. The threat of terrorists attacking the food supply has caused the FDA to tighten temperature requirements and strengthen security of food storage. In addition, the bioterrorism act now requires food manufacturers and distributors - foreign and domestic - to register with the FDA. Companies must also notify the FDA before each individual shipment of a product. Today, the FDA employs more the 9,000 experts - chemists, physicians, microbiologists, veterinarians, pharmacists and lawyers. A third of its workforce is in the Washington area at the FDA's policy-making headquarters.
The agency's remaining arms extend across the nation through more than 150 field offices and laboratories. The FDA does not develop products on its own, instead sending inspectors to investigate more than 16,000 laboratories a year while FDA scientists research new medical devices, food additives, infant formulas and animal drugs submitted by industry. Fighting recent budget cuts, FDA critics argue that these inspectors are stretched too far. From 2003 to 2006 the budget for the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition in the FDA fell 37 percent. FDA inspectors conducted 4,573 inspections of domestic food processing plants in 2005. During 2007, the agency plans to conduct 3,400 inspections - a more than 25 percent decrease. The FDA is working with state and local food safety agencies to keep inspections frequent, an agency spokesman said. Combining federal, state and local inspections raised the total for 2005 to 17,730. The FDA expects the 2007 total to rise to 19,137, despite cutting the estimate for its own inspections. Some critics believe consolidation is already beginning, citing reduced federal funding and job cuts within CFSAN. The government needs to issue a final push of legislation to update and further protect food safety, DeWaal said. "Some of the work is already being done in the lower levels of the [FDA], but Congress needs to come in and pass a law that modernizes the food laws and bring them together," DeWaal said. "What we don't want is to just have the boxes moved around without a new mission."

Current Outbreaks
04/19. Water tampering, gastro link under probe
34 more hospitalized in latest Chinese food scare
 04/18. UPDATE: Chicken not source of salmonella at Broughton

04/18. Milk Supply To Schools In Four States Shelved
04/18. 34 more hospitalized in latest Chinese food scare

04/18. Infant botulism diagnosed in county
Another case of suspected food poisoning
Salmonella confirmed as death toll rises
Woman sues Souplantation over E. coli exposure in Orange Cou
Food poisoning case: Father discharged, child still critical
04/17. Fifth death in food poisoning
19 Chinese students hospitalized with suspected food poisoni

 04/16. Badminton norovirus caused by worker
04/16. Caribbean cruise ship carries norovirus
04/16. Widespread Illness Strikes Augusta School
04/16. Nursing home denies food poisoning claim
04/15. Rattlesnake Capsules Linked to Salmonella Poisoning
04/15. Salmonella outbreak kills four

04/14. Minister in dark over food deaths

Congress Pressing for Better Food Safety
Peanut Butter, Pet Food Poisonings Leave Tempers Short at House Hearing
By Joseph S. Enoch
ConsumerAffairs.Com Congressional Correspondent
April 19, 2007
Source of Article:
Hundreds of humans and pets have died this year as a result of a fractured food safety network. But Congress took a step closer to mending that system at a heated hearing with food safety regulators today.
The House Agriculture Subcommittee hearing focused on the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) which is responsible for inspecting meat, poultry and processed egg products.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) highlighted a Centers for Disease Control report that revealed that over the past five years, instances of food-borne illnesses have either increased or stayed the same. Many of those pathogens are found in meat products.
However, over that same period of time, the FSIS found decreases or unchanging figures in instances of those illnesses at the meat plants, slaughterhouses and samples it inspected, according to Richard Raymond, M.D., the USDA's Under Secretary for Food Safety.
But according to a February Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, many plants are not inspected frequently and about one-third were not inspected at all in the past year.
In response to the CDC's figures and the GAO report, Raymond said the USDA is implementing a risk-based inspection (RBI) process which will focus inspection efforts on suspect plants and slaughterhouses based on past data. He said he hopes to implement RBI by June.
DeLauro asked Raymond many pointed questions about how the FSIS will determine which plants to inspect. Raymond was unable to answer many of those questions. At that point, DeLauro, chairman of the subcommittee, lost her temper.
"For the past several years, the GAO has pointed its finger at food safety as high-risk yet the food safety agencies have ignored those claims!" DeLauro shouted. "I am going to do everything I can to delay RBI until we're standing on solid facts."
Today's hearing highlighted the frequently-heard complaint that the U.S. food safety network is a patchwork of agencies not efficiently protecting consumers. The GAO report noted that 15 agencies comprise the U.S. food safety network. Even within the USDA, there are various departments in charge of one type of food or another.

Food Safety Act
DeLauro and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) have responded with the Safe Food Act, legislation which would put all the powers of those 15 agencies under one roof, potentially eliminating the overlaps and holes that the GAO uncovered.
At today's hearing, representatives pressed Raymond on the deadly delays in recalls of peanut butter and pet foods. "That's not our jurisdiction," was his frequent response.
"If everyone is pointing their finger at someone else, I don't see how we're accomplishing much," Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.) said.
Despite the lapses in concrete data Raymond was able to provide, he told ConsumerAffairs.Com that he believes RBI is the best route to safe food and that the Safe Food Act will create too much bureaucracy.
The next step for the Safe Food Act is that it will go before the Agriculture and Commerce Committees for a joint vote in the House. In the Senate, it has been referred to the Agriculture Committee. If it passes those votes, it will go before the entire House and Senate floors for a vote and then to the President.
There are no scheduled committee votes for either the Senate or House versions of this bill said DeLauro spokeswoman Adriana Surfas.
"I know she is working hard to get this bill before those committees," Surfas said.

Current USDA/FDA News
Worldwide Fish & Seafood, Inc. Enters Consent Decree with FDA

Preliminary FoodNet Data on the Incidence of Infection with Pathogens Transmitted Commonly Through Food

Members Named to National Advisory Committee on Microbiological Criteria for Foods

FDA Urgently Warns Consumers about Health Risks of Potentially Contaminated Olives

Comment Request; Adoption of the Food and Drug Administration Food Code by Local, State, and Tribal Governments

FDA Warns Consumers That Retailers May Still Have Recalled Pet Food on Shelves

Irradiation in the Production, Processing and Handling of Food

FDA Re-Emphasizes Warnings to Consumers on Risks of Pet Turtles

Irradiation in the Production, Processing and Handling of Food

Public Meeting To Address Codex Committee On Food Labeling

Elimination of "Minimal" and "Limited" Inspection

FSIS To Hold Series Of Meetings On Risk-Based Inspection (RBI)

Exemption for Retail Store Operations

Exposure Scoring for Feed Contaminants; Public Meeting

Calif. bill requires cloned food labels
Staff and agencies
18 April, 2007
By AARON C. DAVIS, Associated Press Writer Tue Apr 17, 5:59 PM ET
Source of Article:
SACRAMENTO - Steaks, pork chops, milk and other products from cloned livestock would have to be clearly labeled on grocers¡® shelves under a bill pending in the California Legislature. If passed, the requirement could be more stringent than federal rules. The Food and Drug Administration is poised to give final approval for manufacturers to sell meat and milk from cloned cows, pigs and goats without any special labeling, although a bill introduced in Congress would require it. "Wouldn¡®t you like to know if you¡®re drinking milk from a cloned cow, or feeding your children pork chops from a somatic cell nuclear transfer event?" Migden said during a news conference last week before the Senate Health Committee voted 6-4 along party lines to support her bill.
Migden said her bill isn¡®t designed to undermine the Food and Drug Administration but noted the agency¡®s problems in approving and regulating painkillers.
"They¡®re an overburdened agency and not always 100 percent correct. They¡®ve been duped before on ... Celebrex and Vioxx ," she said.
A recent Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology survey, for example, found that 64 percent of consumers were leery of animal cloning. But a University of Maryland poll found that a nearly equal percentage said they would buy, or consider buying, such food if the government said it was safe. "Whether it¡®s ¡®cloned,¡® ¡®artificially created¡® or whatever, it won¡®t be encumbering," she said. A bill introduced in Congress by Sen. B, , ), D-Maryland, would require cloned meat or milk products to carry a straightforward label: "This product is from a cloned animal or its progeny." "We¡®re sort of a little ahead of ourselves," said Matt Byrne, the association¡®s executive vice president. "There¡®s no meat or milk from cloned animals on the market, and there¡®s no expectation that this will be an issue any time soon."
Farmers and food safety experts who testified in support of Migden¡®s bill said they feel a sense of urgency to make sure products from cloned animals are labeled. Without them, cloned DNA could quickly infiltrate the nation¡®s food chain.
According to research by Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports, the FDA has based its preliminary findings on limited samples, said Jean Halloran, the group¡®s director of food policy initiatives. Findings that cloned pork could be safe, for example, were based on tests of just five pigs, while the findings about cows¡® milk were from 43 cows. "Considering that 90 percent of cloned animals die because there¡®s something wrong with them, we don¡®t consider that to be an adequate safety assessment of what millions of people would be eating and drinking from millions of different animals," Halloran said.
"If cloning is such a wonderful thing, they should be proud to put a cloned label on their product." Another consumer group, the Center for Food Safety, has challenged the FDA¡®s findings. The center said they were based on scant data from peer-reviewed studies and failed to consider possible side effects of cloning. With or without labels, consumers have at least one clue they¡®re not eating cloned meat: The U.S. Department of Agriculture ¡®s green organic seal, given to food produced without pesticides or antibiotics, also means clone-free, according to the agency.

FSA food safety guidance for independents
Source of Article:
Thu 19 Apr 07
New FSA guidance on preventing and responding to food scares will help smaller, independent retailers match the robust food safety practices of the major players in the grocery sector. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) yesterday released the guidance, which is designed specifically for small businesses. It draws heavily on the experience of the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and its membership and has been developed by the FSA¡¯s Food Incidents Taskforce, which includes the BRC, food industry, consumer groups and enforcement authorities. It offers practical advice on how to prevent food scares by improving traceability and identifying and eliminating potential hazards. It also describes how to respond in the event of an incident. Welcoming the document, BRC director general Kevin Hawkins said: ¡°This guidance gives small retailers practical and simple-to-follow advice on how to avoid food scares. The big players in the grocery sector all have robust traceability systems in place and have dedicated resources to ensure they know where the food they are selling is coming from. This allows them to avoid food scares and respond effectively if any safety questions do arise. However, it can be difficult for small retailers, who can¡¯t dedicate the same resources to the issue. This guidance will help by outlining in very simple terms the measures they should adopt.
¡°Retailers of all sizes need to take food safety extremely seriously. Any slip-ups damage the entire sector.¡±
The FSA¡¯s Guidance ¡°Principles for preventing and responding to food incidents¡± ? is available on the FSA website at

Congress Pressing for Better Food Safety
Nitrites in cured meat could increase lung disease risk
SRM breaches in imported beef
Proper handling and preparation key to avoiding foodborne il
Extension Connection: Timing everything with expiration date
No food safety norms in railway kitchens: panel to HC

EU aflatoxin peanut project completed
Winemakers, feds in tiff over allergen warnings
Produce-related E. coli outbreaks a growing problem, CDC fin

FDA warns about potentially contaminated olives
Fresh Express funds produce safety research

How to keep your kitchen as clean as a restaurant
New members on food safety committee
Now, this is progress on E. coli

Taco Bell may pay millions to settle
Food contamination: sorry just isn't good enough
New food safety standards at ConAgra
Researchers aim to prevent tainted food at source

Preliminary FoodNet Data on the Incidence of Infection with Pathogens Transmitted Commonly Through Food --- 10 States, 2006
source from CDC
Foodborne illnesses are a substant
ial health burden in the United States (1). The Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network (FoodNet) of CDC's Emerging Infections Program collects data from 10 U.S. states* regarding diseases caused by enteric pathogens transmitted commonly through food. FoodNet quantifies and monitors the incidence of these infections by conducting active, population-based surveillance for laboratory-confirmed illnesses (1). This report describes preliminary surveillance data for 2006 and compares them with baseline data from the period 1996--1998. Incidence of infections caused by Campylobacter, Listeria, Shigella, and Yersinia has declined since the baseline period. Incidence of infections caused by Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli O157 (STEC O157) and Salmonella, however, did not decrease significantly, and Vibrio infections have increased, indicating that further measures are needed to prevent foodborne illness and achieve national health objectives.

In 1996, FoodNet began active, population-based surveillance for laboratory-confirmed cases of infection caused by Campylobacter, Listeria, Salmonella, STEC O157, Shigella, Vibrio, and Yersinia. FoodNet personnel ascertain cases through contact with all clinical laboratories serving their surveillance areas. FoodNet added surveillance for cases of Cryptosporidium and Cyclospora infection in 1997 and STEC non-O157 infection in 2000. In 2004, FoodNet began collecting data on which laboratory-confirmed infections were associated with outbreaks.

Hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) surveillance, which began in 2000, is conducted in nine states through a network of pediatric nephrologists and infection-control practitioners and is validated with a review of hospital discharge data. Because of the length of time required for review of hospital records, this report contains preliminary HUS data for 2005.

During 1996--2006, the FoodNet surveillance population increased from 14.2 million persons (5% of the U.S. population) in five states to 44.9 million persons (15% of the U.S. population) in 10 states. Preliminary incidence for 2006 was calculated by dividing the number of laboratory-confirmed infections by 2005 population estimates. Final incidence for 2006 will be reported when 2006 population estimates are available from the U.S. Census Bureau. In previous reports, the final incidence has been similar to the preliminary incidence. more information

Food Safety and Quality Job Information
Food Safety and Quality Job Information

How safe is your favorite restaurant?
Thousands cited in S. Florida for serious violations
By Mc Nelly Torres
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Posted April 15 2007
Source of Article:
South Floridians are dining at restaurants more than ever, with the average adult eating out three times a week, according to marketing surveys. But do you know how your favorite restaurant rated during its last health inspection?
Every week, state food inspectors find hundreds of violations of public health, sanitation and safety regulations in South Florida restaurants. While some are minor, such as not having the proper ventilation for appliances, others are more serious and could result in conditions that can make you sick. Between July 2006 and January 2007, state inspectors cited 2,478 South Florida restaurants for "critical" -- more serious -- violations after finding evidence of rodents and insects, an analysis by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel found. In addition, the analysis shows that state inspectors have issued at least 2,450 violations to 2,388 restaurants for failing to follow hand-washing requirements and other good hygienic practices -- violations that can contribute to a food-borne illness. And from 2003 to 2006, emergency closures were ordered for 457 South Florida restaurants, mostly for rodent and insect problems. Health experts say the role of the food inspector has become more important than ever. Food inspectors protect the public health, experts said, but they also protect the food industry because restaurants could be held liable if consumers get sick.
In South Florida, cases of confirmed food-borne illness tied to restaurants have risen 66 percent -- from 429 people in 1997 to 713 in 2005, according to the latest figures from the Florida Department of Health. But experts say the confirmed cases are probably a small percentage of actual illnesses because most consumers don't report them.
Roy Costa, a national expert and consultant to the food industry, said a single inspection provides a snapshot of a restaurant's operations but doesn't always indicate whether an establishment has serious problems that might contribute to a food-borne illness outbreak.
"Food becomes unsafe in a number of ways," said Costa, who is also a professor at the Hospitality and Tourism Institute at Valencia College in Orlando. "You have to look at the history of preparation of food. Even good restaurants could have problems."
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration Food Code suggests that restaurants be inspected three times annually, but every state handles inspections differently. In California and New York, local health departments are responsible for routine inspections. Los Angeles health officials conduct inspections at least twice a year while inspections are done annually in New York City, depending on the size of the restaurant, the complexity of the menu and how well the restaurant has complied with inspections in the past.
In Florida, the Department of Business and Professional Regulation oversees the Division of Hotels and Restaurants, which regulates 43,216 licensed food retailers in the state. A team of 168 inspectors conducts unannounced inspections twice a year and follow-up visits to restaurants, mobile food carts and vending machines.
Health inspections record what is taking place in a restaurant when an inspector walks in. Inspection reports are complex, and they don't tell the whole story. But they provide some general information about a restaurant's cleanliness, food-handling and overall operation. They also can spotlight deficiencies and sanitation problems, such as the presence of insects or rodents, and when food isn't properly maintained at appropriate temperatures.
"Food inspectors and restaurant owners must cooperate, communicate and educate themselves to develop risk-based sanitation inspections," said David Weidner, a former food inspector who is now vice president for EHA Consulting Group, an environmental health consulting company based in Baltimore. Weidner said inspectors should place more emphasis on hand washing, temperature control, sanitation conditions and cooking food the proper way.
Florida's health division follows a model of food safety codes developed nationally by the Conference for Food Protection, a multidisciplinary independent group of industry, regulatory and academic food safety professionals that works closely with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to make changes in the FDA Food Code.
Inspectors use a 60-point list to evaluate food temperatures and handling, hand washing, equipment and utensils, water, fire safety and sewage, among other areas.
Violations are categorized as critical and non-critical. Critical violations -- such as failing to keep food at proper temperatures, possible cross-contamination and staff failure to wash hands -- could lead to food contamination. Restaurants must correct infractions within hours or days, depending on the severity.
"Most people don't know that 60 to 70 percent of food-borne illness outbreaks are caused by someone who didn't wash his hands," said Peter Snyder, president of the Hospitality Institute of Technology and Management, a food safety teaching-consulting firm based in St. Paul, Minn.
Non-critical violations, such as failing to keep a dumpster lid closed, are less severe, but if left uncorrected could lead to critical violations, experts said.
Costa said when an inspector issues a warning, that's an indication that a follow-up visit will take place to be sure an infraction is corrected.
A disciplinary action is taken against a restaurant when violations are not corrected after inspectors have given oral and written warnings. Restaurants could be fined or face sanctions if infractions are not corrected as expected.
In December, the state issued disciplinary actions against 276 restaurants in the state -- 94 of them in South Florida -- and collected a total of $253,550 in fines, the Sun-Sentinel's analysis shows. South Florida's restaurants paid a total of $101,950 in fines.
State officials said an emergency closure is issued when the conditions pose an immediate risk to the public's health, including lack of approved utilities or hot water, sewage backup or overflows, fire damage, pest infestation or inadequate refrigeration. A daily fine usually is imposed. But Costa noted some violations, such as infestation of rodents and insects, show a pattern of neglect by the restaurant owner.
"This doesn't happen overnight," Costa said. "Why did it get to the point where they [restaurants] had to be closed?"

BAX detection system wins honors
Source of Article:
UNITED STATES: Pathogen detection system is highly specific and minimizes false results.
The 2006 Frost & Sullivan North American Excellence in Technology Award in the field of pathogen detection goes to U.S.-based DuPont Qualicon for the development of its patented, automated DNA-based BAX Detection System, specifically designed for food safety and quality testing.
The BAX System is a rapid, microbiological method that uses PCR (polymerase chain reaction) to detect foodborne pathogens such as Listeria spp, Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella, E.coli O157:H7, Enterobacteria sakazakii, and Campylobacter jejuni/coli in concentrations as low as 104cfu/ml. This makes the genetic-based BAX System about 100 times more sensitive vis-a-vis phenotypic-based immunoassays, according to the company.
The BAX System is highly specific. By identifying a genetic sequence that is unique to the target organism, the system amplifies and detects only that fragment, thus minimizing false results.
DuPont Qualicon has demonstrated its technology expertise not only by commercializing the system, but also by consistently upgrading it to meet the challenges faced by its users, the company relays. By demonstrating strong research and development initiatives in its technology platform and its ability to deliver more information-rich analysis, the company has truly spearheaded the approach in the area of PCR technology.

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2nd International Conference for Food Safety and Quality (Nov. 6-7, 2007), South San Francisco Convention Center

1st International Conference for Food Safety and Quality (Nov. 7-8, 2006)
Major Topic: Current Detection Methods for Microbiological/Chemical Hazards for Food Safety/Quality

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