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Historic Food Safety Bill Signed into Law
by Helena Bottemiller | Jan 05, 2011
Using 15 pens, President Obama signed the long-awaited FDA Food Safety Modernization Act into law Tuesday evening.
The legislation, widely hailed as the most sweeping update to U.S. food safety law since the Great Depression, survived a constitutional slip-up, repeated filibuster threats, fierce debate over controversial amendments, and managed to advance amidst a jam-packed legislative agenda in one of the most productive Congresses in recent history. In the last 18 months, food safety legislation cleared the Senate twice and the House three times.
The legislative saga ended quietly Tuesday after the president returned from a family vacation in Hawaii. He signed the bill into law--along with a stack of others, including bills aimed at improving shark conservation, pedestrian safety, and science education--with no formal signing ceremony or statement.
I ndustry, public health, and consumer groups praised the signing.
Pam Bailey, president & CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, thanked the president for signing the bill to strengthen the U.S. food safety system.
"Today's bill signing marks a historic moment for our country--as it represents the most comprehensive reform of our nation's food safety laws in more than 70 years," said Bailey in a statement. "This landmark legislation provides FDA with the resources and authorities the agency needs to help strengthen our nation's food safety system by making prevention the focus of our food safety strategies, and will help restore the public's faith in the safety and security of the food supply."
"The food industry applauds Congress for the passage of historic food safety legislation and is grateful to the President for his signature today," added GMA chairman of the board, chief executive officer of Del Monte Foods Richard Wolford. "I am proud of the food industry for its support of landmark food safety legislation and our efforts to protect consumers and provide them a safe food supply."
As Food Safety News recently reported, supporters of the new law are gearing up to fight for the funding to implement the provisions in a contentious budgetary landscape.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), a longtime advocate of food safety reform and outgoing chair of the subcommittee that oversees FDA's budget, pushed back against reports of GOP plans to block significant funding increases.
"It is disturbing that there will be an effort by Republicans to cut FDA funding and thus prevent this landmark new law from being implemented adequately," said DeLauro in a statement Monday. "In the same week that Republicans announced their intention to cut FDA funding for the new food safety law, it was announced that a salmonella outbreak involving alfalfa sprouts had sickened nearly 100 people in at least 15 states. Without appropriate funding levels, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act would not be as effective in protecting our food supply and saving lives."
Longtime proponent of the legislation, John Dingell (D-MI), echoed the call to fund the bill.
"This law is long overdue," said Dingell, citing the new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate on annual foodborne illnesses and deaths in the U.S. "Now we must take the next step to ensure that the new authorities are fully funded to ensure the FDA can do its work to protect the American people."
The new law will give FDA expanded authority over approximately 80 percent of the food supply--not including USDA-regulated meat and poultry products--by giving the agency mandatory recall power and expanded access to food safety records. FDA will be required to increase the frequency of food facility inspections (currently a facility might be inspected once a decade). Growers and food manufacturers will also be required to implement food safety plans and foreign facilities importing food to the U.S. will have to meet the same standards.

Some Emerging Food Safety Issues for 2011
by Dan Flynn
Congress and the States
Last year, waiting and watching for the 111th Congress to hatch a new food safety bill was the dominant food safety news story.
Congress will continue to make food safety news in 2011, but mostly through oversight and appropriations activities.
The window that was open for reform in the last session of Congress has now closed. No single federal food agency will be created, and USDA's regulation of beef, pork, poultry and egg production will go unchallenged.
States are antsy about a number of food safety issues. More exemptions from regulation of small scale food producers, more loopholes for raw milk, and more pressure to accept state-inspected small meat plants are all possibilities for statehouse action.

Regulations & Enforcement
After the poor job it did implementing the new egg rule in 2010, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will be closely watched as it puts the FDA Food Safety and Modernization Act into effect.
FDA will have a skeptical Republican majority in the House of Representatives looking over its shoulder.
In taking on new powers and responsibilities, doubling the number of staff working on food enforcement, and further extending its reach over importers, the inward-looking FDA could have more outward challenges than it can easily handle.
At USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, the new Under Secretary for Food Safety Elisabeth Hagen will be tested.
In 2010, FSIS began treating one non-O157 enterohemorrhagic shiga toxin-producing serotype of Escherichia coli (E. coli) as an adulterant. That means if E. coli tests are positive for either O157:H7, which has been considered an adulterant in meat for the past 15 years, or 026, which was responsible for a 8,500 pound recall last August by Cargill, the meat should be recalled.
However, FSIS has yet to rule on a petition calling for a half dozen non-O157 strains of E. coli, including 026, to be formally declared as adulterants in meat. That hot potato is now on Hagen's desk.
FSIS, under the 2008 Farm Bill, is suppose to take over regulation of catfish from FDA, but the Obama Administration has been dragging its feet, reportedly over fears of upsetting Asian trade partners. Congress is, however, keeping the heat on to have its way, and Hagen will find herself in the middle of that dispute.
Also in the Farm Bill was a provision calling for FSIS to find a way to allow state-inspected meat plants to sell their products beyond state boundaries. Regulations to make that happen have yet to be issued by FSIS.

That's also on Hagen's to-do list.
Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture, is charged in the new Child Nutrition Bill with establishing nutritional standards for the nation's schools in 2011. The standards he sets will apply to all food in the school, including the vending machines, if the schools want an increase in their federal lunch subsidy.
With the military and the schools paying attention to healthy food, it's clear the nation's obesity problem has gone critical.
First Lady Michelle Obama, with her "Let's Move" campaign and the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans, is helping to make this change.

GM Crops
After finally getting an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) out to cover genetically modified alfalfa, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack followed up in late 2010 with an open letter to those interested in GM crops. He wants everybody to get along.
Or as Vilsack put it, he wants "a new paradigm of coexistence and cooperation."
USDA's problem with GM crops has been process. Its Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has deregulated GM plants without enough study to pass a smell test by federal judges, leaving the products snarled in litigation.
Vilsack's letter, however, defended USDA's process decision and said he has no doubts about the safety of the GM crops.
If in 2011, Vilsack can use his call for "common ground" to bring about a fair and predictable process, maybe he could get this issue out of the courts.

Food Safety Modernization Act Passes, But at What Cost?
By Katharine Shilcutt,
Yesterday afternoon, President Obama signed what's being called "one of the most expansive food regulation bills in living memory," the Food Safety Modernization Act (FMSA), effectively creating a new arm of the Food & Drug Administration that will allow the agency to actively attempt to prevent outbreaks of foodborne illnesses instead of simply responding to them.
Although only 5,000 people a year die from outbreaks such as these -- remember the E. Coli-infected spinach that killed five people back in 2006? -- a stunning 76 million people get sick from eating contaminated food each year in the United States. Seventy-six million. Per year.
To this end, the FMSA -- formerly (and more popularly) known as Senate Bill S. 510 -- seeks to actively prevent such outbreaks from occurring, and that begins with holding food companies and manufacturers accountable for any contamination of their products as well as inspecting both domestic and imported food on a regular basis. And, for the first time ever, the FDA will finally be able to force recalls of contaminated food. As Lauren Marmaduke put it last month, "all recalls to date have been voluntary."
Jean Halloran, the director of food policy initiatives at Consumers Union, put it best when she was quoted by Consumer Reports yesterday:
It's a great day for consumers. When common foods like spinach and peanut products have to be pulled from stores because people are dying, clearly, there's a problem. This legislation will go a long way toward making our food safer.
But what of the supposed "dark side" of the food safety bill? The side that its opponents claim will destroy the organic farming movement in the U.S.? The side that claims seed banks will become illegal? The side that has set up agricultural biotech conglomerate Monsanto as the Emperor Palpatine behind this new bill?
Well, it turns out that none of that is really true. While those with their own backyard gardens or hobbies of collecting and planting heirloom seed varieties will most definitely not be impacted by the bill, there was initial concern for small farms, especially those which grow their produce organically.
In response to a national outcry against the bill's potential inclusion of small farms -- especially the types of local, organic farms that supply goods to farmers' markets and restaurants like Haven and t'afia -- Senator Jon Tester, a Democrat from Montana who runs a farm himself, placed an amendment in the bill that exempts these smaller farms in two ways: Farms that sell their products within a 275-mile radius and that make less than $500,000 annually in sales are not expected to comply with the new FSMA.
The greater concern at hand now is the money that it will take to enact the bill itself and how effective it will ultimately be. Estimated at $1.4 billion to implement, Jeff Winkler of the Daily Caller stated yesterday that "opponents of the act say it will prove to be regulation overkill and only assist larger, cash-flush food producers and distributors in edging out smaller and specialty operations."
Food companies will also likely start spending larger sums of money in areas such as records retention and preparation as well as legal counsel to advise them on new standard operating procedures and to advise the companies if or when the FDA wants access to those records or their facilities. Needles to say, this cost will eventually be passed on to the consumer.
It's these rises in costs -- taxes to pay for the FDA and higher food costs at grocery stores and restaurants -- which is ultimately the most disappointing aspect of the bill, especially in today's economy. But is that a cost we're willing to pay for increased safety?

FDA empowered to help fight food-borne illness
From The Detroit News:
Washington— When salmonella-laced peanut products sickened hundreds during a recent scare, President Barack Obama said consumers should be able to have confidence that their government will keep peanut butter-eating children safe — and that included his daughter Sasha.
"That's what Sasha eats for lunch probably three times a week," Obama said then. "And you know, I don't want to have to worry about whether she's going to get sick as a consequence to having her lunch."

Obama made improving food safety a priority shortly after taking office in 2009. On Tuesday, he got a chance to allay people's fears about the safety of their food. He signed a $1.4 billion overhaul of the food safety system, giving Washington new power to increase inspections at food processing facilities and force companies to recall tainted products.
Congress passed the bill overhauling the food safety system at the end of last year to respond to several serious outbreaks of E. coli and salmonella poisoning in peanuts, eggs and produce in the past few years.
A half-billion eggs were pulled from supermarket shelves in August. Last March, it was hydrolyzed vegetable protein — a key ingredient in dozens of processed foods. Before that, it was raw cookie dough linked to E. coli bacteria, peanuts and peanutbutter, imported seafood, spinach, tomatoes, pistachios and peppers.
In one of the most recent cases, two Iowa farms, Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms, recalled about 550 million eggs last summer after learning they may have been linked to a salmonella outbreak. More than 1,500 people were sickened.
But outside of such outbreaks, salmonella is always occasionally present in the roughly 80 billion eggs sold in their shell in the U.S. each year. The harmful bacteria typically contaminate 1 out of every 10,000 to 20,000 eggs.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1 out of 6 people are sickened by food-borne illness every year. Each year, about 128,000 are hospitalized, and about 3,000 die.
Two years ago, the Peanut Corporation of America issued a recall for products it had made over the past six months, after five people had died and more than 400 had fallen ill with salmonella poisoning as a result of contamination. Two weeks later, the recall was extended to more than 400 consumer products made since Jan. 1, 2007. The company's factory in Blakely, Ga., which was the source of the contamination and is now closed, packed peanut butter in bulk and supplied some of the largest food makers in the nation.
From The Detroit News:

Food safety still a concern despite fewer cases
The number of foodborne illnesses has dropped from 76 to 48 million from more than a decade ago, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, but food safety still remains a concern.
Figures released by the CDC show that about 48 million people, or one in six Americans, become ill from contaminated food each year.
These numbers are lower than CDC previously estimated in 1999, said Catherine Cutter, an associate professor of food science at Penn State University. While there has been a drop in the actual number of foodborne illness cases monitored by the CDC over the last decade, the decrease may be attributed to better data collection.
The report states that of the 48 million people who get ill, about 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die from contaminated foods.
Rhonda Beckner, nursing coordinator at the Somerset Hospital emergency room, said food poisoning and illnesses are common cases at the hospital.
Symptoms can vary, but most commonly are nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramping and discomfort.
Some people may experience a fever and infants can have poor feeding habits or are not as active as they usually are,” Beckner said.
The CDC reports that most of the cases were cause by seven pathogens including common ones like Salmonella and E. coli.
Salmonella was the leading cause of foodborne illness resulting in hospitalizations and deaths, Cutter said.
This week, a meat supplier in California recalled more than 34,000 pounds of organic ground beef products that could be contaminated with E. coli, according to the U.S. Department of Agricultures Food Safety and Inspection Service.
Most illnesses are determined by a farm to fork” process, according to Cutter. Special care is needed when handling food whether in the field by farmers or in the kitchen by consumers.
Individuals working in every segment of the food chain must be knowledgeable about handling food properly, she said. They must understand how they can reduce the risk of foodborne illness.Cutter suggests consumers remember four principles of food safety: clean, separate, cook and chill.Beckner said that foodborne illness can be treated with antibiotics, Tylenol or fluid hydration.

CDC officials have said that the newest foodborne illness numbers are a result of improved surveillance, better criteria for determining an actual food-related case and exclusion of international travel-related illnesses. 1999 2010
Illness 76 million 48 million
Hospitalized 325,000 128,000
Death 5,000 3,000

AMIF to Host Safe Ground Beef Production Workshop February 2-3 in Kansas City Monday, January 3, 2011
Safe ground beef production will be the focus of a new American Meat Institute Foundation (AMIF) Ground Beef Production for Safety Workshop, February 2-3, 2011, at the Marriott Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, Missouri.
A recent report by the National Academy of Sciences, comprised of the Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine and National Research Council, concluded that preventing future foodborne illness outbreaks depends upon two key factors: eliminating contamination during beef production and ensuring that meat is properly handled, stored and cooked before it is served.
In addition, the report stated that some of the current requirements were founded on expert opinion and industry practices where the scientific basis was unclear. The committee recommended that requirements be based on standards supported by the International Commission on Microbiological Safety of Foods, the Codex Alimentarius Commission and the Research Council report An Evaluation of the Role of Microbiological Criteria for Foods and Food Ingredients. It also suggested that the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) analyze data from the suppliers’ bacterial testing to evaluate the safety requirements over time and use statistical methods to set testing sample and lot sizes.
This workshop will address the reports concerns, and will be led by industry experts who will share their experiences and knowledge on the production of ground beef products within a preventative food safety system. During this workshop, participants will hear detailed case studies about ground beef production and food safety challenges and how companies have tackled them.
The workshop agenda is structured to permit extensive discussion with fellow attendees in an effort that participants return to their companies armed not just with theory, but with practical, new ideas and information that can be implemented.
Topics include: achieving regulatory compliance, design of ground beef patties, understanding risk developing a supplier specification, verification and testing and lot and traceability.

Speakers scheduled to lead discussions during the workshop include:
Tim Biela, executive vice president of food safety and quality, AFA Foods
Brian Covington, director of global regulatory affairs, Keystone Foods, LLC
Dean Danilson, Ph.D., vice president, fresh meats quality assurance, Tyson Foods, Inc.
Scott Goltry, vice president of food safety and inspection services, American Meat Institute
Brenden McCullough, vice president of technical services, National Beef Packing Co., LLC
Angie Siemens, Ph.D., vice president, technical services, Cargill Meat Solutions

Enhancing the Food Safety Culture
MANHATTAN, Kan.How businesses and organizations operate above and beyond minimal food safety regulations and inspections, or their food safety culture, often is overlooked, according to a new study published in the journal Food Control.
Researchers at Kansas State University examined three food safety failures, including a 2005 E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in Wales that sickened 157 and killed one; a 2008 Listeria outbreak in Canada that sickened 57 and killed 23; and a 2009 Salmonella outbreak in the United States linked to peanut paste that killed nine and sickened 691.
The findings demonstrate creating a culture of food safety requires application of the best science with the best management and communication systems, including compelling, rapid, relevant, reliable and repeated food safety messages using multiple media is the key to enhancing food safety.
Operators should know the risks associated with their products, how to manage them, and most important, how to communicate with and compel their staff to employ good practicesit's a package deal," the researchers said.
The researchers suggest the following tips to creating good food safety culture:
Know the risks associated with the foods they handle and how those should be managed;
Dedicate resources to evaluate supplier practices;
Stay up-to-date on emerging food safety issues;
Foster a value system within the organization that focuses on avoiding illnesses;
Communicate compelling and relevant messages about risk reduction activities, and empower others to put them into practice;
Promote effective food safety systems before an incident occurs; and
Don't blame customers, including commercial buyers and consumers, when illnesses are linked to their products.

Bugs Through the Ages: The Foodborne Illness Fight
by Ross Anderson | Jan 03, 2011
A new year is supposed to inspire us all to ponder our future in the context of our past. In the case of foodborne illness, that takes us back some 23 centuries to the spring of 323 BC. In just a few years, Alexander the Great and his army had conquered much of the ancient world when they stopped to rest for a while in Babylon, about 50 miles south of present day Baghdad.
According to Greek historians, the 32-year-old ruler was staying at the Palace of Nebuchadnezzar when he developed a bad stomachache. Over the next few days, he stayed in bed, suffering recurring bouts of fever, abdominal pain and chills. The illness worsened steadily until, on June 11, he died.
For centuries, historians suspected he was poisoned by his rivals. But more recently, doctors at the University of Maryland studied the historical accounts of his symptoms and death and concluded that the emperor probably died of water or foodborne illness--possibly Salmonella typhi, or typhoid fever.
They summarized their argument in a 1998 article in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine.
Chances are nobody will ever be able to prove or disprove the theory. But, either way, the mere possibility helps illustrate the fact that foodborne illness is nothing new, that Salmonella and other toxic microbes have been around at least as long as there were people available to infect and sicken.
As with the Macedonian emperor, the consequences have frequently been fatal. Based on historical accounts, scientists have recognized symptoms of foodborne illness in the deaths of countless historical figures, from King Henry I of England to English novelist Rudyard Kipling, and from pioneer flier Wilbur Wright to Queen Victoria's consort, Prince Albert.
Several U.S. Presidents are on the list, including Zachary Taylor, who was sickened and died from Salmonella or other foodborne microbes after eating potato salad and other picnic food at a groundbreaking ceremony for the Washington Monument.
Each case is a reminder that Salmonella and other microbes are equal opportunity pathogens that blithely transgress lines of race, age, gender and class. They infect the old and young, Eastern and Western, rich and poor alike.
Scholars, for example, believe that the fledgling English settlement at Jamestown, Virginia, was ultimately done in not by hostile Indians nor by mosquitoes, but by repeated outbreaks of Salmonella typhi.
Wars have always been friendly to foodborne illness, probably because maintaining hygiene is more difficult with large groups of people who have other priorities. American soldiers fighting in the Spanish-American War were far more likely to succumb to typhoid than to enemy fire. More than 20,000 recruits contracted the disease and thousands died, many of them while training in southern states.
At the same time, the British lost 13,000 troops to typhoid during the South African War of 1899-1902--far more than they lost in battle.
Even the notorious Salem Witchcraft Trials of 1692 may have been rooted in foodborne illness. Some years ago, a New York scientist theorized that the strange behavior of the alleged "witches" -- delirium, convulsions and odd speech -- was caused by ergot, a toxic fungus that infects rye grain, frequently with bizarre consequences. Outbreaks of ergotism, characterized by violent muscle spasms, hallucinations, and vomiting were common in Europe at the time, and could explain much of the mass hysteria that led to a tragic chapter in early Colonial life.
Outbreaks of foodborne illness probably date to the Stone Age. The difference today is that scientists and public health officials around the world have understood what causes them, and how to prevent them.
Still, hardly a day passes without new outbreaks of old pathogens, each one testing our ability to learn from a few thousand years of experience.

CBS Reports Terrorists Might Target Food
by Mary Rothschild | Dec 22, 2010
CBS News reported it first on Monday night--that U.S. officials had gotten wind of a terrorist plot to slip poisons into hotel and restaurant salad bars and buffets in multiple locations during a single weekend.
Tuesday other news organizations chimed in, repeating the CBS assertion that intelligence reports indicated ricin or cyanide would be used to mimic food poisoning but also to create maximum uncertainty and fear about the safety of the U.S. food supply, further damaging the already weak economy.
CBS cited an anonymous source who called this a credible threat and said Department of Homeland Security officials, as well as officials with the Food and Drug Administration and Department of Agriculture, had briefed some members of the restaurant and hospitality industry.
A spokesman for Homeland Security, however, declined a CBS request to comment on speculation about specific plots, saying only that the U.S. has "engaged in extensive efforts for many years to guard against all types of terrorist attacks, including unconventional attacks using chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear materials."
The spokesman stressed that terror groups have long stated their intention to try to carry out unconventional attacks that might be relatively small but that would aim to be highly disruptive.


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