Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Food Safety Bill Passes

It has been a long time coming, but the Food Safety Modernization Act is just a President's signature away.  But does it mean our food will be safer once that ink is dry...not by a long shot.  As in the LA Times article (link below), there are funding concerns.  And then, the FDA has to convert this into an actual regulation.  The battles will continue as it transformed into a document that will be actually implemented.  What will the FDA require as far as food safety plans....will it be similar to Seafood HACCP, or will it be watered down to a point that it has little resemblance to what we know as HACCP?  There is much debate to come. 

And once in place, will our food be safer? Not totally.   Putting regulations in place does not guarantee that some owner won't knowingly ship contaminated product, or that some farmer inadvertently irrigates his leafy greens with contaminated water.  But in most likelihood, it will improve the overall food safety system, thus reducing the overall risk.  The increased probability of an inspection for an establishment that never had an inspection before may make the owner maintain a cleaner establishment.  Having more control on imported good will reduce the risk of another melamine incident. Requiring a food safety plan, or HACCP, not only means that a company has to really think about how they will control food safety, but this plan serves as a guide for the inspector who audits the facility.  More importantly, requiring HACCP may lead to the need for training for the people making food.  In order to develop an acceptable plan, companies will need to learn more about the hazards associated with their process, and this will be a step towards bringing all companies up to a higher level of understanding food safety risks.

So don't look for this new legislation to eliminate foodborne illness altogether, but rather, it will be a step towards reducing risks and thus increasing the safety of the food throughout the supply continuum.
M. Bucknavage

Food-safety bill backed by House

Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The House passed a measure to overhaul the nation's food-safety laws by a vote of 215 to 144 Tuesday afternoon, and President Obama is expected to sign it into law as soon as Wednesday.
The vote marked the final hurdle for a bill that cleared an unusual number of obstacles, despite enjoying bipartisan support and backing from a wide array of groups across the political spectrum, from the Consumers Union to the Chamber of Commerce.

"This is a big victory for consumers that finally brings food-safety laws into the 21st century," said Jean Halloran of Consumers Union. "This win is a powerful testament to the people across the country who came to Washington to tell their lawmakers how contaminated food had killed their loved ones or left them horribly sick. This win is for them and all Americans."

But some critics said the new legislation will expand the reach of the federal government without making food safer. "The federal food bureaucracy needs to get smarter and better coordinated, not more omnipotent," said Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.).

The proposal survived filibuster threats in the Senate, constitutional confusion and tensions between big agricultural companies and the burgeoning local food movement.

The setbacks repeatedly sent the bill back to both chambers, where new challenges arose. In the end, the House voted on it three times and the Senate twice.
The legislation will affect all whole and processed foods except meat, poultry and some egg products, which are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

It is the first major change to the nation's food safety laws since 1938, and comes after a series of national outbreaks of food-borne illnesses linked to a wide varietyof foods, including spinach, peanuts and eggs.
"I beg you, the safety of your constituents is at stake," Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) said during debate on the House floor.

Unlike the current system, which relies on federal officials to trace the source of an outbreak to its origin after consumers have become ill, the new requirements are designed to create a system in which manufacturers and farmers come up with strategies to prevent contamination, then continually test to make sure they work.

The bill includes an exemption for small farmers and food processors, and those who sell directly to the public at farmers markets and farm stands. That exemption was pushed by advocates for local food, who argued that small producers would not be able to afford the testing and record-keeping required by the legislation. But it drew objections from major agricultural producers, which argued that no one should be exempt from producing safe food.

The exemptions "will limit the ability of the [Food and Drug Administration] to assure consumers that all foods they purchase, whether at grocery stores, restaurants, farm markets or elsewhere, have met the same food-safety standards," said Robert Guenther of United Fresh Produce Association, which represents the major fruit and vegetable growers.

"We remain fearful that this profound error will come back to haunt Congress, public health agencies and even those who thought they would benefit from food safety exemptions, but more importantly, we are fearful of what may slip through the food safety loopholes . . . and adversely affect consumers."
The measure also gives the FDA the authority to recall food; now, it must rely on food companies to voluntarily pull products off the shelves. And the bill would give the FDA access to internal records at farms and food-production facilities.

The bill would for the first time require importers to verify that their products from overseas meet U.S. safety standards.

One in six Americans becomes ill from tainted food each year, and 3,000 die, according to government estimates. Businesses spend billions of dollars as a result of lost sales, recalls and legal expenses triggered by the problem.

The measure is expected to cost $1.4 billion over the next four years, including the expense of hiring 2,000 new FDA inspectors.

LA Times Article,0,5901585.story

Monday, December 20, 2010

New case estimates show foodborne illness still a big problem

Monday, December 20, 2010

University Park, Pa. -- New estimates on the number of foodborne illness cases that occur each year in the United States, just released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, show that food safety remains a concern in this country, according to an expert in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences.
The new report states that about 48 million people, or one in six Americans, become ill from the consumption of contaminated food annually. Of this number, about 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die.
"These numbers are lower than CDC previously estimated in 1999," said Catherine Cutter, associate professor of food science. "While there has been a drop in the actual number of foodborne illness cases monitored by the CDC over the last decade, the decrease of the estimated cases -- from 76 to 48 million -- may be attributed to better data collection.
"While we have done a good job of improving food safety, the CDC estimates show that there still is a lot of work to do," Cutter added.
Of the 48 million cases, an estimated 9.4 million were from one of 31 microbial agents, while the cause of most other cases is unknown. Approximately 90 percent of the 9.4 million estimated illnesses were due to seven pathogens, Cutter noted -- Salmonella, Norovirus, Campylobacter, Toxoplasma, E.coli O157:H7, Listeria monocytogenes, and Clostridium perfringens.
"Of these organisms, Salmonella was the leading cause of foodborne illness resulting in hospitalizations and deaths," Cutter said.
"These estimates are important because they give regulatory agencies, consumer groups, academics, public-health officials and industry personnel a measure of the impact of foodborne illness on our society."
According to Cutter, the data demonstrate that there is a lot of work to do throughout the "farm-to-fork" continuum, referring to what happens to food from when it is harvested in the field to what the consumer does while preparing and handling it.
"Individuals working in every segment of the food chain must be knowledgeable about handling food properly," she said. "They must understand how they can reduce the risk of foodborne illness."
She advises that consumers remember four basic principles of food safety:
-- CLEAN: Wash hands and surfaces to remove any pathogenic organisms;
-- SEPARATE: Raw and cooked foods should be kept apart to prevent cross contamination;
-- COOK: Cook foods to a proper internal temperature with a properly calibrated thermometer to kill bacteria that may be present; and
-- CHILL: Refrigerate foods promptly to prevent growth of harmful bacteria.

Keep food safety in mind when preparing for holiday celebrations

Friday, December 17, 2010
University Park, Pa. -- The holidays are a special time -- family, friends, food and more food. But many of the folks handling the preparations are not used to cooking for large groups, and it is easy for them to overlook some important practices, warns a food-safety expert in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences.
"Certainly, preparing food for large numbers of people often creates conditions in our kitchens with which we are not familiar," said extension food-safety specialist Martin Bucknavage. "Because of this, lapses in safe food handling and preparation can occur."
He noted that one of the most important things consumers can do is to properly plan and prepare before the event. "If we wait until the last minute, a forgotten ingredient or an overstocked refrigerator can result in some major confusion and possibly some contaminated food."
Bucknavage recommends taking the following seven precautions before a holiday party:
1. Decide on the recipes for the food you are going to make. Avoid using a recipe for a large group if you have not used the recipe before. If possible, try the recipe before the gathering. Also, make sure the recipes are accurate, according to accepted safe-food-preparation guidelines.
"Too often we find that recipes from less-reputable sources state incorrect cooking parameters, such as too-low cooking temperatures," he explained. "Recently, a friend used a recipe that stated a final cooking temperature for chicken that was 10 degrees lower than the USDA guideline of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Missing this fact, the cook could have put his guest's health in jeopardy."
2. Set a schedule for buying ingredients. Most dry ingredients can be bought well before the event, but if you are buying fresh seafood, you will want to buy it a day or two before, at the most. "Actually, with seafood, it is probably better to buy frozen unless you are close to the source where the seafood is caught," Bucknavage said. "Make sure all ingredients are on hand before you begin cooking. You hate to be running out to the store when you have a pot cooking on the stove."
3. Make sure you have the proper equipment and supplies. The most important implement is a cooking thermometer. There is no better way to tell when a food item is fully cooked than with a thermometer, according to Bucknavage.
"For poultry, the temperature of the bird should be 165 degrees Fahrenheit or higher," he noted. "Also, make sure you have the right cooking equipment, whether it is a properly sized roasting pan or having several serving utensils for the side dishes you plan to serve. Have an adequate amount of aluminum foil and resealable plastic bags for handling leftovers."
4. Plan adequate time for thawing any frozen items, especially larger cuts of meat and poultry. There are a few proper methods for thawing. One is to thaw in the refrigerator, and this may take more than four days for a large, frozen turkey. You can also thaw a food item in running cool water.
"Thawing under running water is a good way to thaw frozen shrimp," said Bucknavage. "You also can thaw foods in the microwave, but be sure to continue cooking completely once thawed this way."
5. Clean out the refrigerator so there is adequate space for all of the refrigerated food items you plan to have, including food items your guests bring. "Too often, the refrigerator is too full, and we are forced to leave food out longer than it should be, or the refrigerator is so packed that it loses cooling capacity," he said. "If needed, have a cooler at the ready along with some bagged ice."
6. Prepare any shelf-stable food items such as cookies or breads a day or more in advance so that you can concentrate on those food items requiring more care, such as a roasted turkey. If guests ask if they can bring something, suggest shelf-stable items such as cookies or cakes. It is an easier, safer alternative.
If they wish to bring items that require refrigeration or cooking, make sure that you and the person preparing the food item have planned accordingly to properly transport, store and serve those items. "If refrigerated, keep below 40 degrees Fahrenheit; if hot, the temperature should be 140 degrees Fahrenheit or higher," he said.
7. On the day of the event, start early and have a plan. "Roasts often can take longer than expected, so get them going early," he said. "Besides, having the cooking done early will allow you more time to spend with your guests. Otherwise, they will be crowding in your kitchen to talk, and this can only add to the stress."
Prior planning and preparation will not only help reduce the risk of foodborne illness, Bucknavage pointed out, "but will help reduce the stress that occurs during your holiday gathering, ensuring that all -- including the cook -- have a happy holiday."

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

CDC Releases New Numbers for Foodborne Illness Cases Each Year

Finally, we can stop quoting the ole ‘76 million people get stick each year from foodborne illness, with 300, 000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths’.  Now it is 48 million sick, 128,000 hospitalizations, and 3,000 deaths. They claim the number is more accurate, which means the number we have been quoting for the last umpteen years was not accurate.  I think most of us guessed that, but in conference after conference, news report after news report, that number was laid out there.  All hail the new number, but think of the number of PowerPoint’s that will need to be changed.

CDC Reports 1 in 6 Get Sick from Foodborne Illnesses Each Year
New estimates more precise
About 48 million people (1 in 6 Americans) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die each year from foodborne diseases, according new estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The figures are the most accurate to date due to better data and methods used. The data are published Wednesday in two articles in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.
The papers provide the most accurate picture yet of what foodborne pathogens are causing the most illness, as well as estimating the proportion of foodborne illness without a known cause. The reports are the first comprehensive estimates since 1999 and are CDC's first to estimate illnesses caused solely by foods eaten in the United States.
"We've made progress in better understanding the burden of foodborne illness and unfortunately, far too many people continue to get sick from the food they eat," said CDC Director Thomas Frieden, M.D, M.P.H. "These estimates provide valuable information to help CDC and its partners set priorities and further reduce illnesses from food."
CDC's new estimates are lower than in the 1999 report. The difference is largely the result of improvements in the quality and quantity of the data used and new methods used to estimate foodborne-disease. For example, it is now known that most norovirus is not spread by the foodborne route, which has reduced the estimate of foodborne norovirus from 9.2 to approximately 5.5 million cases per year. Because of data and method improvements, the 1999 and current estimates cannot be compared to measure trends.
CDC's FoodNet surveillance system data, which tracks trends among common foodborne pathogens, has documented a decrease of 20 percent in illnesses from key pathogens during the past 10 years. However, these FoodNet pathogens make up only a small proportion of the illnesses included in the new estimates.
Of the total estimate of 48 million illnesses annually, CDC estimates that 9.4 million illnesses are due to 31 known foodborne pathogens. The remaining 38 million illnesses result from unspecified agents, which include known agents without enough data to make specific estimates, agents not yet recognized as causing foodborne illness, and agents not yet discovered. In both the 1999 and current estimates, unspecified agents were responsible for roughly 80 percent of estimated illnesses.
"Foodborne illnesses and deaths are preventable, and as such, are unacceptable," said FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D. "We must, and can, do better by intensifying our efforts to implement measures that are prevention-oriented and science-based. We are moving down this path as quickly as possible under current authorities but eagerly await passage of new food safety legislation that would provide us with new and long overdue tools to further modernize our food safety program."
Among the additional findings for foodborne illness due to known pathogens:
·         Salmonella was the leading cause of estimated hospitalizations and deaths, responsible for about 28 percent of deaths and 35 percent of hospitalizations due to known pathogens transmitted by food.
·         About 90 percent of estimated illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths were due to seven pathogens: Salmonella, norovirus, Campylobacter, Toxoplasma, E.coli O157, Listeria and Clostridium perfringens.
·         Nearly 60 percent of estimated illnesses, but a much smaller proportion of severe illness, was caused by norovirus.
"People expect food to nourish them, not to harm them. So we need to intensify efforts to decrease the number of illnesses and deaths due to foodborne diseases," said Christopher Braden, M.D., director of CDC's Division of Foodborne, Waterborne, and Environmental Diseases. "We now know more than ever what pathogens are causing the most harm, and we will continue our work to help protect people from these illnesses. Much that remains unknown about how and why people get sick and we are committed to learning more in the future."
CDC continues to encourage consumers to take an active role in preventing foodborne infection by following safe food-handling and preparation tips of separating meats and produce while preparing foods, cooking meat and poultry to the right temperatures, promptly chilling leftovers, and avoiding unpasteurized milk and cheese and raw oysters.
The full report is available online at For more detailed information on the estimates and methods, please visit To learn more about foodborne illness trends, visit the FoodNet site at To learn about how to prevent foodborne illness, visit

Friday, December 10, 2010

Pennsylvania's new food-safety law initiates major changes

Thursday, December 9, 2010
University Park, Pa. -- A new law recently adopted by the state Legislature will have some immediate and important impacts on eating establishments in Pennsylvania, according to a food-safety expert in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences.
House bill 74, which became Act 106 of 2010 when it was signed by the governor in early December, combined and updated previous regulations, noted Martin Bucknavage, senior extension associate in food science. "After years of wrangling, Pennsylvania lawmakers finally updated state regulations affecting establishments that make and sell food," Bucknavage said.
"Clearly, one of the benefits is that the new law provides a single minimal standard across the state," he said. "The law will use the current U.S. Food and Drug Administration Food Code as a standard, and so Pennsylvania regulations across the state will stay current as the Food Code is updated."
There are some aspects of the law that managers of retail food establishments should be aware of, he explained. First, there are now fees for reinspection of a facility."If an establishment must be reinspected due to obtaining noncompliant status in the first inspection, there is a fee of $150 for reinspection," Bucknavage said. "If a third inspection is required, then a fee of $300 must be paid.
"It will be wise for establishments to be proactive in correcting situations that can result in the facility being graded noncompliant," he said.
In the past, eatery proprietors could request that a state inspector do a cursory inspection, which was a free service. But now there will be a $150 fee charged for unofficial inspections.
"It is also important to note that the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture has the right to perform an inspection if the local health authority has failed to perform the required inspection," Bucknavage said. "So if your local inspector is not on time, don't be surprised if a Department of Agriculture inspector shows up.
"Pennsylvania inspectors have the right to inspect any facility that makes and sells food," Bucknavage added. "And they have the right to take samples for testing of any food items to insure that the food products are safe. The Department of Ag, of course, will have to pay for those samples."
One of the biggest changes may be the new requirements regarding the establishment's certified manager, Bucknavage suggested. The certified person is considered the "person-in-charge" of the facility. "So if an inspector comes into the facility and wants to talk to the person-in-charge, that person will need to be certified," he said.
"Under the new law, if the owner is not certified, then the owner is not technically in charge. Additionally, the certified person must be accessible at all times the facility is operating. And the certified employee can be the person-in-charge for only one facility. The only exception is temporary facilities such as at a fair."

As a result of the new law, the state no longer will be involved in issuing certifications. In the past, people wishing to be certified took an approved food-safety training course followed by an examination and then sent the testing body's certificate and $20 to the Department of Agriculture to receive an official state certification. No longer, Bucknavage said. The testing body certificate will now be the accepted document.
"While this makes it easier, it does have a downside," Bucknavage said. "The state no longer will issue recertification certificates. That is, a person will need to take the certification examination every five years, instead of just having to participate in eight hours of training and then sending the old state certification to the Department of Agriculture for reissuance of a new certificate."
Those who wish to obtain recertification under current law have until Jan. 22, 2011 to apply. Bucknavage said Penn State Cooperative Extension offices throughout the state will offer limited recertification opportunities.
Extension conducts state-approved food-safety certification training for food-service managers through ServSafe, a national program developed by the National Restaurant Association. For more information, contact your county Penn State Cooperative Extension office or visit extension's food-safety website at