Top food safety regulators say D.C. transition going smoothly

Top food safety regulators say D.C. transition going smoothly

CHICAGO — America’s top cops in food safety gathered for a “Town Hall” Thursday morning at the 2017 Food Safety Summit. They let the attendees know that if they were worried about the transition in government, they can forget about it.

From the states’ perspective, the Association of Food and Drug Officials’ Joseph Corby spoke of unprecedented cooperation. “There are things going on right now that have never been done before,” said Corby, AFDO’s executive director.

FSS 2017 Town Hall session

Panelists for the Sixth Annual Town Hall were, seated from left, AFDO’s Joe Corby, CDC’s Robert Tauxe, USDA’s Al Almanza, and FDA’s Stephen Ostroff. Moderator Gary Ades, standing, is president of G&L Consulting and Chairman of the Food Safety Summit Educational Advisory Board.

As examples, Corby said Wisconsin is accepting FDA inspections as state inspections, and the New York State information is being used by FDA to issue import alerts. Such cooperative agreements are becoming the rule, he said. States are going to be responsible for enforcing “a good share of share of the (Food Safety Modernization Act) produce rule.”

Corby called for stepping up the federal/state cooperation by going to comprehensive cooperative work planning in all FDA districts.

Al Almanza, administrator of USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and acting deputy under secretary for food safety, said he’s been “extremely pleased” with the transition in Washington D.C. FSIS had to seek exemptions from the early hiring freeze for both field and laboratory employees, but those were approved within 24 hours.

Almanza said the fact that the new Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, is a veterinarian “is making my job a whole lot easier.” Almanza said Perdue “understands food animal production.”

According to Almanza, Secretary Perdue says he wants only to see the science for what FSIS wants to accomplish, and the agency will have his support. “We’ve gotten everything we’ve asked for” Almanza said. “Food safety will be one of best worlds to be in during next four years.”

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta is still waiting for the new administration to name its director, but Dr. Robert Tauxe, who head’s CDC’s division for foodborne, waterborne and environmental diseases, is worried.

Dr. Tom Price, Secretary of Health & Human Services, is the likely key decision-maker for CDC, and as a former Atlanta congressman, Tauxe notes that Price has represented CDC and its employees.

CDC has continued making progress, with the rapid expansion of whole genome sequencing, and its public database. Tauxe said it is turning up more outbreaks of the “low and slow” variety.

Also, human norovirus has been cultivated and two types of vaccines are being advanced for it, one from a single pill and the other requiring two shots.

FSS 2017 NSF award winners

Prior to the Town Hall session, the 14th Annual NSF Food Safety Leadership Awards were announced. The 2017 NSF Food Safety Leadership Lifetime Achievement Awards were presented to, from left, Jack Guzewick, trainer/consultant; Lee-Ann Jaykus, researcher at North Carolina State University; and David Theno of Gray Dog Partners.

Finally, Dr. Stephen Ostroff, FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods, said he takes it as a good sign that Congress upped food safety budgets by $38.8 million. Some of the final compliance dates for FSMA enactment are coming up rapidly.

The foreign supplier rule takes effect later this month; preventive controls in September 2017; and the produce safety rule in January 2018.

“We are in a time frame of gaining momentum,” said Ostroff.

Congress has provided $18.2 million for additional work on national integrated food system, $16.9 million for import safety, and half a million for animal food and feed.

Ostroff also pointed out that Australia, New Zealand and Canada have all been found to have comparable food safety systems to the United States. Improved recall tools have also been on the agenda at FDA, and were deployed in the recent soy nut butter case were facility suspension was used, he said.

Finally, FDA’s Office of Regulatory Affairs will on May 15 reorganize itself along product lines rather than geography.

The top regulators took several questions from the audience and stayed around to meet with individuals after the 75-minute presentation concluded.

 

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