The online publication of meat, poultry and eggs product testing data could improve food safety and public health, said a report by the US National Research Council (NRC).
The report, which was sponsored by the US Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), examined the food-safety benefits of publicly posting inspection and enforcement information in relation to meat and poultry products.
It concluded that the system would provide increased transparency and positively impact public health. However, it also noted several potential adverse consequences
It suggested that public posting could lead to the misinterpretation of data, pressure on inspector performance and the unintentional release of confidential information.
“Food safety regulatory programs have other effects as well, such as effects on domestic and international food markets, consumer and public perceptions of food safety, and individual and institutional trust in the integrity of the food supply chain,” said the report.
However, the report does add that the establishment of a data posting system would allow user to identify companies with performance records below and above the industry average.
Public ‘right to know’
“Public release of regulatory data is motivated by two broad purposes. The first addresses the public’s ‘right to know’ about the actions of the government. The second, ‘targeted transparency’ seeks to use information disclosure as a mean of achieving specific public-policy objectives.”
This is turn could “create economic pressure to improve food safety,” said the study.
The FSIS, responsible for ensuring the safety of meat, poultry and egg products in the US, is considering the release of data on its website, including inspection and enforcement information and sampling and testing data.
Its work includes testing for the presence of foodborne pathogens such as Salmonella, E.coli and Listeria monocytogenes, as well as checking for correct food labelling.
The NRC was entrusted with the task of examining and identifying the positive and negative impacts of making this type of information publically available.
The creation of this system would provide “better insights into strengths and weaknesses of different processing practices, which could lead to industry-wide improvements in food-safety practices,” the report said.
The report added that there have been previous occasions where the implementation of similar polices have led to “measurable improvement in public health.”
“For example, the implementation of restaurant grade cards appears to be associated with a decrease in foodborne-illness hospitalisations.”
“From a public-health perspective, it remains difficult to establish a direct link between a single regulatory action or food-safety intervention and specific public-health outcomes.”
“Although it is not possible to make a direct causal link between public data access and specific food safety improvements, the committee concluded that measures of other outcomes of public release of establishment –specific data are available and that documenting those outcomes could provide insights into the relationship between data release and food safety,” the report concluded.