The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has announced a new food safety program that it hopes will improve the coordination of food safety and inspection efforts between state agencies and the FDA. The Manufactured Food Regulatory Program Standards include new guidelines outlining how state regulatory agencies should inspect businesses that manufacture food under FDA jurisdiction. The FDA is heralding the program as a significant step towards integrating the work of state agencies involved in the US food safety system.
According to an FDA press release announcing the program, variations in state regulations create inconsistencies among food inspections in different states. The FDA believes that if states adopt the new standards, food inspections across the country will improve. The FDA contends that such improvement will reduce outbreaks of food borne illnesses throughout the US. The new guidelines are strictly voluntary, however, and it remains to be seen how many state will choose to adopt them.
It is understandable that the FDA would want states to adopt uniform food safety standards. In the past year alone, several outbreaks of food borne illness have been linked to problems at food manufacturing plants. Just last month, the Castleberry’s Food Company recalled over 90 varieties of its canned products after they were linked to several instances of botulism poisoning. The canned foods involved in the outbreak were all produced on one malfunctioning production line at the company’s Augusta, Georgia plant. In January, more than 600 people were sickened by Salmonella poisoning that was traced to Peter Pan and Great Value Peanut Butters. Problems at the ConAgra Foods plant that made those peanut butters contributed to the Salmonella contamination. Critics of the food safety system in the US often point to varying standards and poor coordination between state agencies responsible for food inspections as one reason food safety is often compromised.
The new FDA program defines “best practices” for several critical elements of state food inspection programs. Included in the program are new guidelines for staff training; inspection; quality assurance; enforcement; education and outreach; resource management; food borne illness incident investigation; food defense preparedness and response; laboratory resources and program assessment. Should a state choose to participate in the program, the FDA would provide the appropriate regulatory agencies with self-assessment work sheets for each standard.
The FDA believes it will be several years before the Manufactured Food Regulatory Program Standards are fully implemented. The FDA will be pilot-testing the program in New York, Oregon and Missouri before September 30.