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FDA, USDA to Propose New Guidelines for Food Safety (Update2)

By Alan Bjerga

Article from Bloomberg

July 7 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Department of Agriculture will step up inspections and craft new guidelines to reduce outbreaks of food-borne illnesses, a presidential working group said.

Measures include more USDA testing at meatpacking plants to find the potentially deadly E. coli bacteria, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said today, releasing the group’s review of the U.S. food-safety system. The FDA today issued a rule to help control salmonella contamination of eggs during production, which could reduce foodborne illnesses by 80,000 a year, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said.

“The food-safety system in our country needs a significant update,” Vice President Joe Biden told reporters at a news conference in Washington with the two cabinet secretaries, who led the working group. “We know these are the first steps of many.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in April that food safety in the U.S. is no longer improving. There are about 76 million cases of foodborne illnesses in the U.S. each year, the CDC says, causing about 5,000 deaths.

Product-Tracing Systems

To help combat the trend, the group said the FDA this month will issue commodity-specific guidance for industry on how to reduce contamination of fresh produce. Within three months, recommendations on how food companies can create product-tracing systems will be issued. The FDA and the USDA will also create new administrative positions to coordinate food-safety efforts.

Some companies have called for more drastic action. Supervalu Inc., the second-biggest U.S. supermarket chain, wants some food-safety duties to be taken from the FDA, which Sebelius oversees, and handed to the USDA. Campbell Soup Co. Chief Executive Officer Doug Conant said last month the U.S. should emulate Canada and create a single food-safety agency, a concept Vilsack endorsed in February as a long-term government goal.

The White House proposals “are things we can work with,” said Robert Guenther, the senior vice president for public policy with the United Fresh Produce Association, a trade group that includes Kroger Co., the largest U.S. supermarket chain, and Chiquita Brands International Inc. “Having better coordination between the USDA and the FDA should help outbreaks be managed more quickly,” reducing costs to companies, he said.

A January recall of products that may have been made with salmonella-tainted peanuts cost Kellogg Co., the world’s largest cereal maker, about $70 million, the company has said.

Congress is considering other measures to reshape the food- safety system. Among them is a plan, approved last month by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, that would grant the FDA authority to order food recalls even when a company refuses to cooperate. The FDA also would increase inspections under the legislation.

The USDA inspects meat, eggs and poultry, while the FDA is responsible for other products that account for about 80 percent of the U.S. food supply.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alan Bjerga in Washington at [email protected].


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