A Summertime Hot Line For Food Safety Questions
From June through August, the residents of Florida, Illinois and Massachusetts will be able to dial a toll-free number to get quick, expert advice and answers to most of their questions about food safety.
The program is a pilot for the Food Safety Hotline, being jointly sponsored by the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration. Consumers in the three states can dial 1-800-426-3758 between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Eastern time Monday through Friday. The phones will be staffed with home economists trained in food safety issues that fall under FDA and USDA jurisdiction.
By law, the Agriculture Department has jurisdiction over meat and poultry products, and FDA regulates all other foods. However, with the joint hot line, consumers won't have to concern themselves with which agency to call.
FDA Commissioner Frank E. Young, M.D., Ph.D., said that he believed the service could make an important contribution toward improving the public's knowledge and awareness of food safety. In a letter last December to Lester M. Crawford, D.V.M., Ph.D., administrator of USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, Young noted:
"A cooperative project between our two agencies to pilot test the concept of a Food Safety Hotline will be a notable step forward in providing consumers with a national focal point for obtaining timely and accurate information.
"All too often," he continued, "consumers do not make jurisdictional distinctions in seeking needed information about microbiological contamination, food-borne illnesses, and other food safety issues. This pilot effort will help us make essential information about food safety more readily accessible to consumers while, at the same time, providing us with valuable data for our respective consumer education programs."
Both agencies said that they would carefully evaluate the pilot effort to see if the program should be expanded and made permanent. Individuals who call after the service is discontinued will hear a taped message asking them to contact USDA's Meat and Poultry Hotline, a toll-free service operated by the agency since July 1985.
Typical of the kinds of calls to be handled by the Food Safety Hotline will be: . Microbiological hazards in food--Organism that cause food poisoning occur naturally and can be brought into the home. For example, Salmonella has been a problem with poultry and meat products. Listeria monocytogenes has been associated with a number of food poisoning outbreaks involving cheese products in recent years. Other common concerns include potential health problems associated with some shellfish and other seafood. . Food additives--In recent years, FDA has received numerous inquiries about the safety of artificial sweeteners such as aspartame and saccharin, sulfites and other preservatives, color additives, and other substances added during food processing. . Food packaging and processing--Consumers have expressed concern about possible health hazards of chemicals from food packages leaching into the food. Processing techniques for canning and freezing foods, as well as proper ways for handling foods for cooking in microwave ovens, also prompt numerous inquiries. FDA also receives many inquiries on irradiating food products, a preservation method now approved for use on pork, fresh fruits and vegetables, and spices and herbs and other aromatic seasonings. . contaminants in food--In recent years there has been considerable public interest in chemical contaminants such as urethane in alcoholic beverages, pesticide residues in foods, and others, some of which occur naturally (aflatoxins and urethane, for example).
Other common subjects of interest include fruits and vegetables; imported foods; lead and the safety of earthenware and cookware; the regulation of filth and …