FDA unveils pandemic preparedness plan

Mar 14, 2007 (CIDRAP News) – The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today issued a pandemic influenza preparedness plan that defines the agency's current role in federal pandemic planning, such as expediting the review of new vaccines and antivirals, and spells out work it will do in areas such as food safety and targeting counterfeit drugs.

The lengthy plan, posted on the FDA's Web site, addresses six major areas: vaccines, antiviral medications, medical devices, food and feed safety, emergency preparedness and response, and enforcement.

Though the FDA has already accomplished several pandemic-related tasks, such as approving a pediatric indication for the antiviral oseltamivir, other tasks are ongoing. The plan details steps needed to improve the surge capacity for producing products that will be crucial during a pandemic, such as antivirals, diagnostic tests, personal protective equipment, and other medical equipment.

On the food safety front, the FDA said it is identifying a list of regulated foods and animal feeds that are at increased risk for contamination from a pandemic virus strain. The list would include products that contain poultry ingredients. The agency also said it would gauge the risk of food contamination from infected waterfowl and the possibility of contamination of ready-to-eat foods by infectious respiratory droplets from humans.

In addition, the FDA said it is investigating which food-processing practices can kill influenza viruses. The agency will conduct its own research on the effectiveness of processing methods, and also monitor the scientific literature on the survivability of viruses in various foods and conditions.

Though the FDA has already prohibited the use of human antiviral drugs in poultry and is currently educating groups about the rule, it said the next step is to provide a test for antiviral drug residues in products that contain poultry. The FDA said it expects to provide testing capability sometime during the 2007-08 fiscal year.

The agency reported it is already pursuing actions against fraudulent or counterfeit pandemic-related products, particularly those that are risky to consumers. One of the next steps, officials said, is to draft a plan to expand investigations and prosecutions of such cases and intercept product shipments at US borders.

In other news related to flu viruses and food safety, scientists at the US Department of Agriculture's (USDA's) Southeast Poultry Research Laboratory in Athens, Ga., recently tested whether cooking chicken at the USDA-recommended temperature kills the H5N1 virus. The researchers used heavily contaminated meat from 4-week-old White Leghorn chickens that they infected with a 2003 Korean strain of the H5N1 virus.

Their study, described in the March issue of the Journal of Food Protection, showed that cooking the meat at the recommended 165ºF killed the virus with a large margin of safety. The USDA made the 165ºF recommendation in April 2006, on the basis of advice from its National Advisory Committee on Microbiological Criteria for Foods. Some previous federal recommendations called for slightly higher temperatures.

See also:

Thomas C, Swayne DE. Thermal inactivation of H5N1 high pathogenicity avian influenza virus in naturally infected chicken meat. J Food Protect 2007 Mar;70(3):674-80 [Full Text]

April 6, 2006, CIDRAP News story "USDA: 165 degrees is magic number for safe poultry"

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