FDA Releases Food Safety Guidance Priorities for 2022

Plans address lead and arsenic in juice and baby food, as well as reducing the risk of food poisoning outbreaks linked to shell eggs and other products.

Federal food safety regulators plan to produce dozens of guidance statements this year, addressing a wide range of food and cosmetic safety topics, including providing information about what the agency considers food that is ready to eat, lead levels and arsenic in juice, and allergen controls.

On January 31, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) and Office of Food Policy and Response (OFPR) published a list of draft and final guidance topics, which will be a priority for the agency’s Foods Program to complete over the next year.

The guidance documents are designed to provide the industry and the agency’s staff more details about the FDA’s policies and interpretations of food and drug regulatory issues. While the statements are not legally binding, they provide an approach for the industry to reach regulatory goals and satisfy applicable food safety laws.

The new list contains 30 food and cosmetic guidance topics covering processes including the lead and arsenic levels in juice, action levels for lead in baby food, and prevention of salmonella contamination in shell eggs.

Barring any emergent public health issues or changes in the administration’s priorities, the FDA’s intent is to publish all draft and final guidance topics on the list within the next 12 months.

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The pending guidance on lead and arsenic in juice and baby food comes amid growing concerns over hte presence of heavy metals in baby food.

A U.S. Congressional report released last year highlighted internal documents and testing products for baby food sold by Gerber (doing business as Nestlé Nutrition), Beech-Nut Nutrition and other widely used products, finding that some baby foods contain high levels of toxic metals, with more than 91 times the maximum level of arsenic allowed in bottled water; 177 times the allowable levels of lead, 69 times the limits on cadmium, and five times the levels of allowable mercury.

The presentation of this list comes a little more than a month after the FDA released its Foodborne Outbreak Response Improvement Plan whose stated goal is to “bend the curve of foodborne illness.” The plan focuses on improving the speed, accuracy, and effectiveness of the FDA’s response when addressing food poisoning.

Impacting an estimated 48 million Americans and costing about $15.6 billion annually, food poisoning outbreaks cause sickness in nearly 1 in 6 Americans according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). With incidents of foodborne outbreaks showing a marked rise in recent years and the recent temporary halt on domestic food safety inspections due to Omicron, there is considerably greater public concern about the ever-increasing possibility of food poisoning.

The recently published list of guidance does include topics that address food contamination and cover preventative controls for processing human food that the FDA expects to expand upon over the next year. This includes classifying food as ready or not ready to eat, as well as food allergen controls.

The FDA invites public comments and suggestions on the list of food and cosmetic guidance topics. Anyone wishing to comment, make recommendations, or suggestions for alternative topics can submit them to https://www.regulations.gov/, using Docket ID: FDA-2021-N-0553.

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