The FDA published this week the final 2004 Produce Safety Action Plan aimed at minimizing the number of foodborne illnesses that are contracted each year through the consumption of fresh produce.
The government body said that it developed the plan because of the importance of fresh produce in a healthy diet and the continuing outbreaks associated with the consumption of fresh produce.
It builds on the 1998 GAP/GMP guidance - which provided an overview of microbial food safety hazards and good practices for the growing, harvesting, washing, sorting, packing, and transporting of fruits and vegetables sold to consumers in an unprocessed form - and is based on evidence gleaned from inspections of farms and packing facilities, and investigations of foodborne illness outbreaks.
The final plan addresses the whole process, from the farm to the table, examining all points where contamination could occur. It has four main objectives, namely: to prevent contamination of fresh produce with pathogens; to minimize the public health impact when contamination of fresh produce occurs; to improve communication with producers, packers, processors, transporters, distributors, preparers, consumers and other government bodies about fresh produce; to facilitate and support research relevant to the contamination of fresh produce.
"Because most produce is grown in a natural environment, it is vulnerable to contamination with pathogens," said the FDA.
"The plan is designed to target microbial food safety hazards (such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites) in or on produce consumed in the US, whether produced in the US or abroad."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that in the US each year, 76 million people become sick, more than 325,000 people are hospitalized, and 5,000 people die from foodborne illness, and believes that, in the 1990s, at least 12 percent of foodborne-outbreak-associated illnesses were linked to fresh produce.
The risk of foodborne illnesses appears to be high on the US agenda. Earlier, this month, for example, the US food safety agency announced that it planned to release two draft risk assessments related to the harmful food pathogen salmonella.
Developed by the Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), the soon-to-be released documents aim to provide scientific information that the agency can use to develop 'pathogen reduction lethality performance standards' for pasteurised shell eggs and egg products.
The first risk assessment is a quantitative analysis of Salmonella enteritidis in shell eggs and the second is a quantitative risk assessment of Salmonella in pasteurised liquid egg products.
A public meeting to be held today will aim to provide a forum to discuss the technical design and assumptions that were used to create these draft risk assessments.