FDA reports good results for new food safety portal

Jul 28, 2010 (CIDRAP News) – The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today issued its first assessment of a reportable food registry designed to speed response efforts when the first sign of a threat emerges, saying the system is already a valuable tool in preventing foodborne illness outbreaks.

At a news conference today to unveil a report on the first 7 months of the electronic registry, Michael R. Taylor, the FDA's deputy commissioner of foods, said the agency is pleased with the system's progress so far. "It's quite a success story, getting this up and running and getting a flow of reports."

So far the system has received 125 primary reports and 1,638 follow-ups, he said. He said the system, intended to prevent contaminated products from reaching consumers, played a role, for example, in early response to the identification of hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP) that was contaminated with Salmonella. The food manufacturer that received the contaminated HVP shipment submitted a report to the registry, and the supplier recalled the product and also submitted a report to the registry. About 177 products containing the HVP were recalled, but no illnesses were reported.

Congress established the Reportable Food Registry in 2007, and the FDA launched the electronic food portal in early September 2009. Firms that make, process, or hold food must notify the FDA within 24 hours if they find, through their own or third-party testing, that a food might sicken or kill a human or an animal.

The regulation applies to all foods and animal feed that the FDA regulates except for dietary supplements and infant formula, which have their own requirements. Companies aren't required to submit the report if they found the problem before the food or feed was shipped and corrected it or destroyed the food.

Of the 125 primary reports, Salmonella accounted for 37% of the hazards, followed by undeclared allergens for 35%,and Listeria monocytogenes for 13%.

Among 11 different commodities, 14 involved animal feed or pet food, 12 involved seafood, 11 spices and seasonings, and 10 dairy products.

Kathy Gombas, acting deputy director in the FDA's office of food defense, communication, and emergency response, said that, of the 125 reports, only 1 was linked to an adverse health event in humans, a food-related allergic reaction that affected four members of a family.

The FDA said in a press release that it is too early to sort out food contamination patterns, because the registry has been operating only a short time and doesn't have a large number of reports to assess. "This first snapshot should be taken as representative of events in the food system," he added.

Taylor told reporters that the information sharing between the FDA and industry has been a positive attribute to the new electronic registry. "Industry is increasingly detecting contamination incidents through its own testing, and FDA access to this information permits us to better target our inspection resources and verify that appropriate corrective measures have been taken," he said in a statement.

See also:

Jul 28 FDA news release

FDA reportable food registry report

Sep 8, 2009, CIDRAP News story "FDA launches safety alert portal for food companies"

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