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FDA gears up for food safety rule revision

By Jane Byrne , 13-Nov-2008

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said it will bring current federal food processing safety rules up to date in an effort to provide additional protection against foodborne illness.

The regulator claims a survey involving 2,700 US food processing facilities of a range of different sizes will be the first stage in a process aimed at revising the existing good manufacturing practices (GMPs) that govern the safe processing, packaging and storage of food in the US.

The current GMPs were drawn up in 1986 and no longer reflect developments in science and technology, claims the FDA.

Key issues

The agency said its survey of processing plants will seek information about five key issues relevant to the GMP modernization effort including employee training, sanitation and personal hygiene, allergen controls, process controls, and recordkeeping.

According to the FDA, responses will be kept confidential and will only be used for statistical purposes.

More inspections sought

Meanwhile, a poll conducted by the US Consumer Reports National Research Center claims consumers are concerned about food safety and they want the government to inspect the food supply more frequently.

The participants, according to the report, stated that the FDA should conduct visits of foreign and domestic food processing plants at least every month. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) must inspect meat plants daily; however, the FDA has no such requirement for food processing plants.

The survey comes in the wake of a number of high profile food recalls and scares in the US related to fresh produce as well as beef, and it also follows the recent melamine scare linked to Chinese milk products.

Import worries

Eighty-three percent of the respondents are concerned with harmful bacteria or chemicals in food and 81 per cent are concerned with the safety of imported food, according to the survey's findings.

The Center said that 95 per cent of those surveyed said that processed or packaged food should be labelled by their country of origin and that country of origin labelling for products should always be available at point of purchase.

Cloned food

Nearly three quarters of the consumers polled believe that cloning of food animals should be prohibited while 60 per cent are concerned about meat or milk products from cloned or genetically engineered (GE) animals, with the majority calling for GE food, meat and dairy products to be labelled as such, stated the survey.

In addition, more than two-thirds of the respondents are concerned about the safety of meat treated with carbon monoxide to preserve red colour, with 93 per cent agreeing that the packaging should clearly state if meat has been treated using this method, according to the poll.

The report stated that 90 per cent of those polled agreed that meat that contains any irradiated components should be labelled as such; the USDA is currently considering the exemption of irradiated whole carcasses from labelling.