“In my mind I’m gone to Carolina,” croons James Taylor at virtually all of his concerts. While the iconic singer songwriter may not get to spend time in the state where he grew up as often as he would like, those that live in and visit North Carolina can routinely experience what might be called, under Taylor’s influence, the pleasant and comforting moonshine of good and safe eats. (“Can’t you just feel the moonshine?” Taylor sings soothingly.)
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From the mountains to the sea, under the sun by day and the moon by night, North Carolina shines in an exemplary way relative to its food safety and food protection and defense infrastructure, according to Anita MacMullan, food administrator of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (NCDA&CS) Food and Drug Protection Division (FDPD).
“The FDPD stands out by demonstrating a deep commitment to quality and maintaining strong relationships with federal, state, and local regulatory partners,” says MacMullan, who oversees North Carolina’s food regulatory program. “The NCDA&CS constantly seeks ways to innovate, improve efficiency, increase effectiveness, and be at the forefront of new food safety and defense initiatives.”
Through Fire and Rain: Radiant Regulatory Rays
MacMullan believes the strengths of the FDPD relative to food safety oversight and defense capabilities can be found in the Division’s continuous involvement in new programs and initiatives designed to strengthen capacities and capabilities surrounding public health protection.
Per the U.S. CDC Foodborne Outbreak Online Database (FOOD Tool), North Carolina had just 11 foodborne outbreaks in 2014. (2015 data is not available as we go to press.)
“One of the greatest strengths of the FDPD is leadership that has consistently supported the pursuit of activities that improve our programs, increase efficiencies, broaden the scope of our regulatory oversight, and, ultimately, enhance public health protection,” MacMullan elaborates. “The other strength of the FDPD is the commitment, at all levels within the organization, to continuous improvement and the tireless pursuit of excellence. Due to the strength of our leadership and commitment to excellence in all endeavors, the FDPD has become a leader among state programs in establishing and sustaining new programs and initiatives to improve our regulatory oversight and defense capabilities.”
That’s a big deal, since there’s an inventory of more than 13,000 food firms subject to inspection in North Carolina. “Of that, approximately 1,900 are manufacturing firms, with the remainder consisting of retail operations such as grocery stores, home processors, retail frozen desserts, and other industry types,” MacMullan mentions. “In the manufacturing firm category we include bakeries, milling operations, seafood processors, wholesale frozen desserts, beverage bottlers, prepared salads, sauces, snack foods, and warehouses.”
The FDPD was one of five state regulatory programs that piloted the first version of the Manufactured Food Regulatory Program Standards (MFRPS) in 2007.
Developed by FDA, along with selected state program managers, the MFRPS are an optional set of standards that can be used by the states (if they so choose) as a guide for continuous improvement for state food manufacturing programs.
“The concept of applying standards to regulatory programs was new at that time and pilot states did this work without the benefit of additional funding or other means of assistance,” MacMullan points out.
MacMullan is quick to extol what she believes are some of the key achievements of the FDPD’s MFRPS involvement. These include developing a comprehensive database to manage inspection, sampling, and compliance information; increasing training to field and compliance staff; creating procedures and policies to bring uniformity and consistency to MFRPS; establishing an audit program to assess the performance of North Carolina’s regulatory program, leveraging Rapid Response Team (RRT) expertise in response activities; and ISO/IEC 17025 accreditation of the FDPD laboratory.