Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition

Article excerpt

This is one in a series of article on FDA activities and concerns.

Olestra garnered headline news when the Food and Drug Administration approved it in 1996, but the agency component that approved the fat substitute may not be well known to many consumers.

This agency component, the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN), regulates $240 billion worth of domestic food, $15 billion worth of imported foods, and $15 billion worth of cosmetics sold across state lines. This regulation takes place from the products' point of U.S. entry or processing to their point of sale.

CFSAN is one of six centers within FDA. With a work force of about 800, the center promotes and protects the public health and economic interest by ensuring that:

* Food is safe, nutritious and wholesome, and cosmetics are safe.

* Food and cosmetics are honestly, accurately and informatively labeled.

To achieve these goals, the center strives to be a leader in food safety, protect consumers from economic fraud, promote sound nutrition, and encourage innovation.

Recent center activities demonstrate the center's commitment. For example, in approving olestra as the first synthetic fat-based fat substitute, the center's scientific staff evaluated more than 150 studies on olestra's safety. Concerned about olestra's potential ability to reduce nutrient absorption in the body, the center approved olestra on the conditions that vitamins A, D, E, and K be added to olestra-containing foods and that a statement appear on such foods to inform consumers of possible nutrient losses and thus the reason for the addition of the fat-soluble vitamins. The center also requires the statement to warn consumers about the possible side effects of abdominal cramping and loose stools.

A Sampling of Highlights

Examples of other more recent center actions include:

* revamping food labels to make it easier for consumers to get nutrition information about the foods they eat

* approving certain health claims supported by scientific evidence showing a link between a food or nutrient and a disease or health condition. These health claims can be used in food labeling.

* requiring warning labels on iron-containing drugs and dietary supplements and individual-dose packaging for products with 30 milligrams or more of iron per unit to protect children from accidental iron poisoning, a leading cause of death in children under 6

* establishing new regulations based on modern food safety techniques to improve seafood safety

* issuing regulations calling for folic acid fortification of enriched grain products by 1998 to reduce the chances of certain birth defects in infants

* signing an agreement with the University of Maryland to form the Joint Institute for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, paving the way for both organizations to pool specialized knowledge, equipment and facilities.

Behind the Scenes

Employees ranging from secretaries and other support staff to highly specialized professionals--such as chemists, microbiologists, toxicologists, food technologists, pathologists, pharmacologists, nutritionists, epidemiologists, mathematicians, and sanitarians--carry out the center's mission.

The center is divided into seven offices dealing with:

* cosmetics and colors

* food labeling

* plant and dairy foods and beverages

* premarket approval

* special nutritionals, such as dietary supplements and infant formula

* special research skills and support.

Other center offices deal with consumers, industry and other outside groups; field programs; agency administrative tasks; scientific analysis and support; and policy, planning and handling of critical foods' issues.

Most center staff members work out of the center's headquarters in Washington, D. …