In 2008, the FDPD was in the first group of state programs that received funding from FDA under the RRT cooperative agreement. This cooperative agreement provided resources to build emergency response capacity and capability and to implement MFRPS.
“In collaboration with other RRT states, our program participated in the development of the national RRT Best Practices Manual and continues to contribute to national emergency response activities,” MacMullan relates. “Our RRT has been involved in training our own staff on emergency response activities, including the use of an Incident Command System, as well as collaborating with other states on similar training and table top exercises to ensure that we have the skills necessary to address food emergencies in our state.”
MacMullan boasts that the FDPD’s laboratory becoming ISO/IEC 17025 accredited in 2010 was an accomplishment that not many state agricultural laboratories had achieved at that time. “Having an ISO accredited laboratory sends a very strong message to regulated industry and regulatory partners about our commitment to accurate, defensible data,” she emphasizes. “Additionally, accreditation allows for greater utility of our laboratory data for public health protection.
“Our laboratory also participates in the Food Emergency Response Network (FERN), a nationally integrated lab system to provide surge capacity testing during food emergencies or foodborne illness outbreaks,” MacMullan continues. “By participating in FERN, our laboratory stays current on new methodologies and procedures for food testing. Participating in FERN, along with being an ISO accredited lab, places our laboratory in an elite group of state and national laboratories that conduct critical food testing.”
The FDPD staff serves on the Produce Safety Alliance, the Food Safety Preventive Controls Alliance, the FDA sponsored Partnership for Food Protection, and other working groups focused on advancing an integrated food safety system. “In collaboration with the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture and FDA, the NCDA&CS has been at the forefront of developing a model operational plan for state implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Produce Safety Rule,” MacMullan adds. “The FDPD is also a member of the North Carolina Fresh Produce Safety Task Force and works with task force members on issues related to produce production.”
The NCDA&CS is a founding member of the North Carolina Food Safety and Defense Task Force (FSDTF), a multi-agency, multi-stakeholder partnership created to better protect North Carolina’s food supply. Created in 2003 by a Governor’s executive order, the FSDTF brings together federal, state, and local regulatory agencies; academia; agriculture; industry; consumer groups; law enforcement; and other technical experts to improve the safety and security of the state’s food supply.
How Sweet It Is: Industry at the Table
“A strength we have in North Carolina is that industry has a strong voice when it comes to food safety issues,” says Stephen Tracey, CP-FS, CFS, the food safety manager for Salisbury, North Carolina-based Delhaize America-Food Lion and chair of the state’s FSDTF executive committee.
Regulatory agencies, including the NCDA&CS and state public health officials, have invited North Carolina food industry representatives to serve on various relevant committees and councils over the years, Tracey points out.
“Industry being invited to the table has been an important way we have mutually enhanced communications among our organizations,” Tracey emphasizes. “The end result is that we have a strong food safety culture in our state. With all of us working together, regulatory officials understand that food industry representatives want to do the right thing for customers and industry leaders understand that regulators are protecting public health.”
Research, Extension, Education Powerhouse
“North Carolina is one of the most agriculturally diverse states in the country, and our food safety efforts reflect that diversity,” says Lee-Ann Jaykus, PhD, a William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professor in the Department of Food, Bioprocessing, and Nutrition Sciences (FBNS) at North Carolina State University (NCSU), Raleigh.