It will take a proactive approach on the part of all food industry stakeholders to be more effective with bacterial monitoring, expansion of routine testing, and control, Coleman asserts.
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“Companies offering laboratory services need to expand services to help food manufacturers, retailers, and restaurants get results in a more efficient, state-of-the art, user-friendly manner,” she advises. “Phone apps for iPhone and Android that allow busy food industry professionals a way to track lab testing results is something we’ve invested in. Adapting new analytical methods to food safety while also catering to smartphone communications preferences are two ways this company is striving to serve their clients.”
Robert Buchanan, PhD, director of the Center for Food Safety and Security Systems at the University of Maryland, College Park, Md., emphasizes that FSMA’s impact does not stop at the U.S. border since all the countries and companies that export to the U.S. will have to meet the requirements of the regulations.
That’s a noteworthy point, because another issue in the U.S., Dr. Buchanan says, is that more and more foods and ingredients are coming in from underdeveloped or developing countries.
“It’s good if these countries have an infrastructure that can handle food safety and food fraud issues, but we can’t count on that,” he relates. “If you think they are inspecting their products before they are shipped out, you need to think again. There definitely needs to be some way to manage these imports on our end. To that end, the new FSMA rules have multiple new requirements designed to improve our confidence in imported foods.”
Dr. Buchanan considers the U.S. taking the lead on new regulations a positive thing. “The regulations derived from FSMA seem to be paying a great deal of attention to ensuring that a level playing field does not favor certain segments of the food industry, such as small versus larger manufacturers, or domestic versus foreign manufacturers,” he says. “And fortunately, the drafters of the regulations also appear to be very careful about not hampering innovation. If we tamper with this ability, we reduce the potential for continuing improvement in our food supply.”
With FDA leading the way with new regulations, the USDA FSIS can be expected to follow at some point with regulatory reform, too, Dr. Buchanan predicts. “For example, as with FSMA, FSIS will likely have to deal with international trade issues to meet the U.S.’s obligations under the World Trade Organization Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures” he explains.
In terms of science having an effect on food safety, modern epidemiology has, in some instances, exceeded the ability to control pathogens in a number of foods, Dr. Buchanan asserts.
“With some of the recent diffuse outbreaks, the contamination rates exceeded the ability to detect the pathogen,” he points out. “It thus becomes a challenge to determine how much otherwise safe food we should throw away when pathogens are detected. As a result, one of the major challenges facing government, industry, and society in general is how do we reach a consensus of what is a tolerable level of risk before the next incremental increase in food safety becomes burdensome to society?”
It’s tough to get an agreement on a tolerable level of residual risk, Dr. Buchanan continues. “I’m all for risk assessments, but I’m not sure they are applied correctly,” he notes. “When developing new standards, they reflect the tolerable level of residual risk, whereas outbreaks typically involve a lack of compliance to a standard, a different risk based on reliability. In the debate over standards and performance, many of the participants do not fully understand the difference between compliance and residual risks.”