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FDA calls meeting to improve food traceability systems

By Rory Harrington , 06-Nov-2009

Federal agencies in the United States need to increase the speed and accuracy of traceability systems to combat outbreaks of food-borne illnesses, said the FDA as it called a public meeting on the matter.

Changes in industry practices and customer preferences as well as the increase in food shipped into the US from overseas have also heightened the need to upgrade both traceback investigations and traceforward operations.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said the meeting will also look at gaps in current product tracing methods, the core elements of an effective structure and mechanisms to boost traceability systems both in the short and long term. Establishing effective documentation in the supply chain to ensure traceability has been highlighted as a major goal.

Public meeting

The meeting could also help the FDA and Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) improve their ability to use information in new systems to identify the source of contaminations during outbreaks of food-borne illness, said a notice from the agencies.

Developing the ability of all those in the supply chain to more quickly spot food that is- or may be - contaminated and to remove it from the market is another goal of the meeting, added the FDA.

“This public meeting provides an opportunity for FDA to collaborate more closely with FSIS as well as with members of the food industry, many of whom have been making important innovations in food safety practices and technology, and all of whom bear primary responsibility for producing and marketing safe food,” said Michael R. Taylor, senior advisor to FDA’s commissioner Margaret Hamburg.

The FDA said US food safety had been strengthened in recent years with the creation of better surveillance procedures, greater awareness of weak links in the system and faster response times to crises.

However, the bodies added that “changes in consumer preferences, changes in industry practices and the rising volume of imports continue to pose significant challenges” to food scrutiny

The FDA and FSIS share responsibility for the safety of the US’ food supply for helping to ensure the safety of the nation’s food supply. Each agency investigates foodborne illness outbreaks and other foodborne risks associated with the products they regulate.

Documentation

A slew of food contamination incidents over recent years in the US have been a major factor in highlighting the need for efficient and effective traceability systems – particularly the importance of linking shipments of contaminated – and potentially contaminated- food backward and forward in the supply chain through the efficient assembly and review of product tracing records.

A traceback investigation is an investigation to determine and document the distribution and production chain, and the source(s), of contaminated (and potentially contaminated) food, often in the context of an outbreak of foodborne illness. A traceforward operation is an operation to determine the distribution of contaminated (and potentially contaminated) food.

The meeting will be held on 9-10 December in Washington at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s South Building in the Jefferson Auditorium, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, D.C., 20250. Those interested in attending the public meeting can pre-register online at: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/News_&_Events/Meetings_&_Events/index.asp .

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