US review gleans ideas from European food safety reforms

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food safety, European union

A US review has looked to some of the most effective European food safety systems for ideas on how to make the American system more effective.

Researchers from the Emerging Pathogens Institute at the University of Florida, J. Glenn Morris, director of the institute, and Michael Batz, head of Food Safety Programs, examined changes in approaches to food safety in Denmark, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom over the past decade.

“While positive efforts in the United States are attempting to address these challenges, serious obstacles remain,”​ they wrote. “…These challenges are not unique to the United States, and the efforts of other countries to institute programs, policies, and practices to support a risk-informed system can inform similar efforts in this country.”

The report, released by the Produce Safety Project, concentrated on reforms in three European countries that are well-respected for their food safety systems, and where reforms have been based on developing strong scientific analysis and risk assessment of food safety efforts.

Among the key findings of the report, the researchers said European reporting of food safety issues has become increasingly centralized over the past ten years, and the European Union now releases annual reports detailing foodborne illness across the 27 member states – a system that could help track food safety issues in the United States, the authors said.

Director of the Produce Safety Project Jim O’Hara said: “A national annual report on food safety will actually tell us if we are making progress or not in reducing the burden of foodborne illness. It is a yardstick we don’t have now.”

The report said the EU’s annual reports on foodborne illness are notable because they include data from so many countries, and also present two important types of data in one place: that on human illnesses, collected through public health surveillance systems; and data on food and food animal contamination, collected by regulatory agencies.

“We also believe there is an advantage to be gained by creation of an independent federal institute for food safety risk analysis,”​ said Morris, co-author of the report. “It would be comprised of the majority of scientists and analysts currently within FDA, CDC and USDA food safety groups and tasked with supporting a risk-based food system through integrated research, data collection and analysis. That is the model from European countries with strong food-safety systems.”

Within the existing US food safety framework, the authors recommended better integration and coordination of scientific analysis and food safety research; more nationwide data on foodborne illness and contamination; better traceability; and more public participation.

The full report is available online here​.

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