IoM Report: FDA's Food Safety Approach in Need of Overhaul

Article excerpt

When it comes to keeping the nation's food supply safe, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration would do well to switch to a more risk-based approach, according to recommendations in a recent Institute of Medicine report.

Released in June, the report lays out a blueprint for improved food safety activities by FDA, an agency that oversees approximately 80 percent of the U.S. food supply, including all produce, seafood and cheese.

"I think the FDA understands the ideas of what a risk-based approach is," APHA member Robert B. Wallace, MD, professor of epidemiology and internal medicine at the University of Iowa College of Public Health and chair of the report's authoring committee, told The Nation's Health. "Over the last decade, they've actually had meetings and prospectus documents about all of this. I think the problem is they haven't been able to implement risk-based methods to better improve their function. They're working on it."

Rather than waiting for problems such as an outbreak of a foodborne illness to arise, a risk-based approach would put FDA officials in more of a proactive role, according to the report. Such an approach marshals data and expertise to pinpoint the greatest potential for contamination and other problems along the food production, distribution and handling chains.

Other key changes called for in the report include better integration of federal and state food safety systems.

"We feel they need better data sharing and access," Wallace said about state and federal agencies that work on food safety issues.

The report also recommended setting up a data analysis and management center staffed with people who have expertise in acquiring and analyzing national food safety data. …