FDA Details New Food Poisoning Prevention Strategies

Effort focuses on preventing food poisoning caused by imported produce.

As federal regulatory officials continue to seek new ways to reduce the impact of food poisoning outbreaks that sicken millions of Americans every year, a series of new strategies have been released by the FDA, which are designed to help avoid harmful pathogens from contaminating imported fruits and vegetables.

In a press release issued this week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released the Activities for the Safety of Imported Food (PDF), outlining several measures that can be taken to reduce future incidences of Salmonella and Listeria outbreaks.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there has been an influx in foodborne illnesses spanning across multiple states throughout the U.S. in recent years. While it is believed that many go undetected, the agency estimates hundreds of foodborne outbreaks occur annually, resulting in 128,000 hospital treatments and 3,000 deaths.

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Of these illnesses, the FDA states many are caused by gaps in control processes used when inspecting imported food, especially fruits and vegetables. As of 2022, the U.S. imports roughly 15% of the total food supply, with 32% fresh of vegetables and 55% of fresh fruit imported, leaving many Americans susceptible to foodborne pathogens.

The FDA’s most recent report focuses on four specific goals to safeguard imported produce. These goals include

  • Food Offered for Import Meets U.S. Food Safety Requirements
  • FDA Border Surveillance Prevents Entry of Unsafe Foods
  • Rapid and Effective Responses to Unsafe Imported Food
  • Improving the Effectiveness and Efficiency of our Food Import Program

The report highlights methods for the FDA to ensure compliance verification activities are taken before produce can be accepted and distributed from U.S. ports, including proper inspections and testing, as well as information sharing with foreign regulatory partners.

As part of the “frontline” efforts, the FDA further states surveillance activities and information sharing across more than 300 active U.S. ports of entry can be improved to identify a history of compliance issues and high-risk produce items. Better sharing of risk assessments, testing, sampling and screening data across ports can be used to prevent unsafe food from entering.

For contaminated items that do make it into U.S. commerce, the FDA is exploring new technologies and processes for identifying and removing them from the marketplace.

Collectively, the agency outlines a means to create a smarter food safety process to create an adaptive, risk-informed and cost-effective management system it hopes will greatly reduce the presence of contaminated produce in the U.S. food supply.

In two separate releases alongside the report, the agency indicates special focuses are being placed on certain imported vegetables, including mushrooms and onions, which have caused thousands of Salmonella and Listeria injuries in recent years.

The FDA states as more at-risk imported produce is recognized, individual efforts will be placed on the screenings and testing as well as reaching out to foreign importers to make sure appropriate safety measures are taken prior to shipping.

Interim Food-Borne Illnesses Prevention Plan

Earlier this year in January 2022, the Interagency Food Safety Analytics Collaboration (IFSAC), which is a partnership between the CDC, FDA and the Food Safety and Inspection Services (FSIS) published an interim strategic plan for 2022 and 2023 indicating the group would place more emphasis on collecting data and estimating the sources of sporadic foodborne illnesses.

The IFSAC says it always focuses on estimating sources of both outbreak-associated and non-outbreak related illnesses, but prior strategic plans have largely used data from foodborne illness outbreaks. The new plan will include information from illnesses that do not stem from outbreaks.

In addition, the group will also look more closely at campylobacter outbreaks, which have traditionally been harder to track, but have been seen in several outbreaks involving unpasteurized milk and chicken liver products.

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