FOOD SAFETY SCAN: Foreign meat safety audits, New York health emergency

Nov 1, 2012

USDA quietly reduces audits of meat exporters' food safety systems
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has reduced its audits of the meat safety systems of US trading partners by more than 60% since 2008, according to an investigative report by Food Safety News (FSN). From 2001 to 2008, the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) inspected meat and poultry safety systems in 25 to 32 exporting countries per year (except for 2006, when inspections were much reduced), FSN reported. But from 2009 to 2012 the number of countries audited dropped to from 3 to 20 per year, or an average of 9.8. Last year the agency audited meat safety in only three countries: Australia, New Zealand, and Poland. Also, FSN said the FSIS has been slow to release audit reports and that it unveiled reports covering the past 2 years only this week, after multiple FSN requests. Current and former FSIS officials told FSN the agency is shifting to more of a "risk-based" approach to foreign audits, relying more on self-reporting by foreign inspectors. FSIS officials said they had intended to explain the change in a Federal Register notice, but they have been too busy issuing other policy notices. Agency officials asserted that the cutback was not caused by lack of funding, but a former agency employee said budgetary pressures were a major factor. The USDA currently allows 34 countries to export meat and poultry to the US, on the basis of determinations that their safety systems meet USDA standards, the story says.
Nov 1 FSN story
FSIS foreign audit reports

Feds declare post-hurricane New York public health emergency
Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius declared a public health emergency for New York state yesterday in the wake of hugely destructive Hurricane Sandy, which made landfall on the East Coast on Oct 29. The emergency declaration is necessary for HHS to waive or modify certain Medicare, Medicaid, and Children's Health Insurance Program requirements, the agency said in a release. The declaration enables affected New York healthcare facilities to adjust some operating procedures temporarily, such as admitting qualified Medicare patients to a nursing home without the usual 3-day hospital stay. HHS said more than 500 of its personnel have been deployed to help affected states respond to public health, medical, and human services needs.
Oct 31 HHS news release
In related news, destruction from Hurricane Sandy creates a myriad of health concerns, including illness from contaminated water and foodborne disease from improperly refrigerated food, according to an NPR blog post today. Health officials are warning residents of New Jersey, New York, and other affected states of possible health risks, including pathogens from sewage in floodwater, which may cause illness with contact. "That kind of shows up as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and other symptoms related to gastrointestinal illnesses," said New Jersey state epidemiologist Christina Tan, MD, MPH. CDC Director Thomas Frieden, MD, MPH, cautioned about the risk of foodborne disease, given that refrigerated food stays cold for only about 4 to 6 hours after a power outage (and millions of East Coast residents are still without power). "In 2003 there was a long blackout in August, and we saw a significant increase in foodborne illness in the days after," Frieden said. His advice: "If in doubt, throw it out."
Nov 1 NPR blog post

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