FOOD SAFETY NEWS SCAN: Salmonella in Europe, FDA food recall authority

Jul 30, 2012

Belgium, Hungary, Germany report Salmonella outbreak
In recent months three EU countries have reported 186 cases of illness caused by the same strain of Salmonella, with 60 cases having an indistinguishable pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) pattern, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said today. This single PFGE pattern of the Salmonella Stanley samples suggests a common source, but officials have yet to identify it. The strain is typically linked to travel to Southeast Asia, particularly Thailand, but the outbreak cases appear to be unrelated to travel, the ECDC reported. Belgium reported 26 lab-confirmed outbreak cases as of Jul 26, compared with an annual average of 3 to 6. Since September 2011 Hungary has reported 110 Salmonella Stanley cases (91 in 2012), and since August 2011 Germany has confirmed 50 cases. Of those, 20 Belgian, 32 Hungarian, and 8 German cases share a matching PFGE pattern. Case-patients in general tend to be young, but the median age for those with the same PFGE pattern is 7 years. And, of the 40 identical-PFGE patients with symptomatic illness, 53% required hospitalization. The ECDC is alerting countries to be vigilant for the strain and especially for the PFGE pattern, but it said in a news release today, "The impact on public health across the EU is considered to be limited."
Jul 30 ECDC news release
Jul 30 ECDC report

GAO highlights issues with new FDA food-recall powers
Passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) in Jan 2011 gave the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) new authority to order food recalls, but it also directed the Governmental Accountability Office (GAO) to explore how the FDA would implement its authority, communicate recalls and outbreaks to the public, and compensate the food industry for erroneously ordered recalls or advisories. The GAO, in a Jul 26 report, noted that foodborne illness outbreaks are not only a health threat, they also have serious economic and consumer-confidence consequences. GAO investigators looked at the recall processes used by other federal agencies, reviewed FDA documents, and interviewed a host of stakeholders from May 2011 to July 2012. They found that FDA officials have drafted internal interim procedures for ordering recalls but haven't made them publicly available. The GAO said without the information, it's unclear if the FDA's recall practices would be applied uniformly or consistently. Though the FDA has started discussing the issues, it still hasn't adopted a recommendation from a risk communication committee on communications during emerging events. Investigators found government mechanisms that might be used to compensate producers but no examples of their use. The GAO recommended that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) order the FDA to take several actions, including documenting the recall process and how it will weigh evidence about whether a recall is needed. In response to the report, the HHS said it didn't agree or disagree with the recommendations but said it has actions in progress to address most of them.
Jul 26 GAO report

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