New report calls for stronger local-level food safety systems

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food safety, Foodborne illness, Salmonella

Holes need to be plugged in local and state-level food safety programs in order to effectively protect the public from foodborne illness, says a new report prepared with input from regional health officials.

Large-scale salmonella outbreaks linked to jalapeño peppers last year and then peanuts this January have prompted a flood of legislation proposals for ways to strengthen the FDA’s role in the federal food safety system. Many have criticized a fragmented approach across the country, but new research from Washington DC argues that the answer is to strengthen local and state programs and better integrate them with the federal food safety strategy.

Research professor, former FDA and USDA official and co-author of the study Michael Taylor said: “State and local agencies occupy the critical frontline in the nation’s food safety system. Food safety reform at the federal level will be incomplete and insufficient unless it strengthens state and local roles and builds true partnership across all levels of government.”

The report, Stronger Partnerships for Safer Food: An Agenda for Strengthening State and Local Roles in the Nation’s Food Safety System, was prepared by the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services together with those organizations that represent local-level health officials: The Association of Food and Drug Officials (AFDO), the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) and the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO).

Response centers

Among the specific recommendations put forward, the report suggests establishing a network of regional foodborne outbreak response centers staffed with local, state and national experts to ensure an integrated approach that could also be used to inform prevention measures.

“Most significantly for a prevention-oriented food safety system, there is no focal point and insufficient capacity in the current system for timely follow-up investigations in which environmental health professionals, in collaboration with other experts, can investigate root causes of outbreaks to inform future prevention,”​ it said. “The proposed regional foodborne outbreak response centers would address these problems.”

The report also called for a modernized and more integrated system of plant inspections, and said it urges federal officials to “dismantle legal, technical and bureaucratic barriers that prevent sharing of food safety data among federal, state and local agencies.”

Proposed legislation introduced following the salmonella outbreak related to peanut products includes the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act – a bipartisan Senate bill intended to strengthen FDA authority – and a regional bill passed by Georgia’s state Senate to tighten up site inspections and mandate contamination reports.

The full report can be accessed online at​.

Related topics: Regulation

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