FDA’s Michael Taylor: Preventive approach ‘may seem obvious’ in hindsight

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food safety

The Food Safety Modernization Act’s preventive approach to food safety may seem obvious in hindsight – and it is already a food industry norm, FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods said on Thursday.

The Food Safety Modernization Act, which was signed into law in January, has been hailed as a major shift in the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) approach to food safety, toward prevention of foodborne illness rather than reaction to outbreaks once they have occurred. But although it may be a shift for the FDA, most food and ingredient manufacturers already take a preventive approach.

Speaking at the George Washington University School of Public Health, FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods Michael Taylor highlighted the HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) system – which was originally devised by the food industry in the 1960s as a way to ensure food for space flights was as safe as possible – as a prevention-based strategy that much of the industry already uses to handle food safety.

“HACCP is also an internationally recognized framework for food safety, through its adoption by the United Nations Codex Alimentarius Commission and other national governments,” ​Taylor said. “HAACP-based prevention is thus already recognized as the operating principle and standard for food safety by much of the food industry.”

‘Two lenses, common vision’

He said that while prevention has always been a fundamental principle for public health strategy, the public health community and the food industry look at prevention from different perspectives. The food industry, like the public health community, is concerned about ensuring food is safe, but industry also has a strong business interest in avoiding costs, market disruptions, and loss of consumer confidence associated with illness outbreaks and food recalls, he said.

Among the new regulatory tools built into the Food Safety Modernization Act, the FDA will have the authority to order recalls, when previously it could only request that a company withdraw a product from the market (with the exception of infant formula); it will have greater access to food manufacturers’ safety procedure documents; and companies will be required to keep more detailed food safety records.

“But the prevention vision goes deeper than this new regulatory tool kit,” ​Taylor said. “It is grounded in principles and approaches that the public health community has applied to a range of health problems over the years and that the food industry pioneered and is already applying in many instances to ensure food safety…In hindsight, many such interventions may seem obvious, but we know that prevention works best in public health when we take a systematic, knowledge-based approach.”

For the FDA’s implementation of the new food safety legislation, this means that inspectors will be looking to verify that firms are taking measures to ensure food safety, as well as looking for food safety problems, Taylor said.

“This is a transformative shift in FDA’s role. It respects industry’s primary responsibility for producing safe food. It makes much better use of FDA’s resources. And it provides a much better assurance to consumers that effective measures are being taken to prevent problems on a continuing basis, not just when the inspector is in the facility,”​ he said.

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