Food Safety Administration: A too-modest proposal

Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) have proposed bicameral legislation to split the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) into two separate entities: the Food Safety Administration (FSA) and the Federal Drug Administration.

The new Food Safety Administration would remain a part of the US Department of Health and Human Services and would be led by a food safety expert whose appointment would require Senate confirmation.

The proposed restructuring of the FDA came in response to agency shortcomings revealed during the recent Abbott Nutrition infant formula recalls and investigations.

Divide and conquer

While the intentions of Senator Durbin and Congresswoman DeLauro are to be lauded, I believe their proposed solution does not address a major underlying flaw in the US food safety regulatory system.

I am referring to the divided and overlapping jurisdictions of the current FDA and the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the US Department of Agriculture.

As now constituted, the FDA is responsible for ensuring the safety of approximately 80% of the US food supply. The FSIS oversees most of the balance, including meat, poultry, eggs and siluriformes (catfish and other related species).

This split jurisdiction has led to some strange and arbitrary divisions of authority. For example, the USDA oversees inspection of open-faced sandwiches containing meat or poultry, while the FDA is responsible for all other open-faced sandwiches as well as for all closed-face sandwiches, regardless of the filling.

Pizzas containing more than 2% meat are regulated by the FSIS; other pizzas come under the purview of the FDA.

As I wrote in TAINTED. From Farm Gate to Dinner Plate, Fifty Years of Food Safety Failures, “[a] fragmented inspection system is expensive, inefficient and unfair to the industry it regulates.”

In addition to the jurisdictional jigsaw puzzle, the FSIS is in a potential conflict of interest vis-à-vis other agencies within the USDA that are responsible for marketing US food commodities domestically and around the world.

Show me the money

The combined discretionary food safety budget allocated to FSIS and the current FDA for 2022 is $2.766 billion.

The FDA’s share of this budget is $1.6 billion, or ~58% of the total amount.

Yet, the FDA is responsible for regulating ~80% of the food supply. The Durbin/DeLauro proposal does nothing to address the funding imbalance between the two principal federal food safety agencies.

In 1998, a joint committee of food safety experts within the US Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council recommended that the US consolidate food safety into a “single, unified agency headed by a single administrator.

Several US trading partners have done just that.

Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and Denmark, to name just a few, have successfully consolidated their food safety programs. In doing so, these countries have reduced duplication of efforts, streamlined jurisdictions, and removed the appearance of a conflict of interest between agricultural marketing and food safety.

The solution

The United States should have taken the advice of its own experts decades ago.

Representative DeLauro and Senator Durbin, the US food safety system is badly broken. What you are proposing is to apply a Band-Aid when what is needed is an organ transplant.

Instead of splitting the current FDA into two separate components, you should be proposing a single, unified, stronger Food Safety Administration. One with enough muscle to claim a seat at the cabinet table.

It’s time to “go big or go home.”

Learn more about a variety of food safety issues in TAINTED. From Farm Gate to Dinner Plate, Fifty Years of Food Safety Failures, now available in digital, print and audiobook editions.

TAINTED formats 3
“Reads like a true crime novel” – Food Safety News

Big Olaf recalls ice cream linked to Listeria outbreak

Image from US CDC

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), together with the Florida Department of Health and public health agencies in several other states have been investigating an outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes illnesses that has sickened 23 individuals in ten states.

Twenty-two of the outbreak victims have been hospitalized.

There has been one adult death, and one of the five pregnant women infected in the outbreak lost her baby.

Illnesses have been reported in Colorado (1), Florida (12), Georgia (1), Illinois (1), Kansas (1), Massachusetts (2), Minnesota (1), New Jersey (1), New York (2), and Pennsylvania (1).

Of the 18 people interviewed, all (100%) reported eating ice cream. Among 18 people who remembered details about the type of ice cream they ate, 10 reported eating Big Olaf Creamery brand ice cream or eating ice cream at locations that might have been supplied by Big Olaf Creamery.

After first claiming that “nothing has been proven,” the company eventually announced a voluntary recall of its ice cream products.

The FDA has expressed concern that the recalled products may still be in consumers’ freezers, and cautions the public not to eat, sell, or serve any Big Olaf ice cream products.

What consumers need to know

  • Do not eat Big Olaf Creamery ice cream.
    • If you have any Big Olaf Creamery ice cream at home, throw it away.
    • If you are in Florida and don’t know if the ice cream being sold is Big Olaf Creamery brand, ask the store before you buy or eat it.
  • Clean any areas, containers, and serving utensils that may have touched the ice cream.
  • Listeria is most likely to sicken pregnant people and their newborns, adults aged 65 or older, and people with weakened immune systems. Other people can be infected with Listeria, but they rarely become seriously ill.
  • Call your healthcare provider right away if you have any of these Listeria symptoms:
    • Pregnant people typically experience only fever, fatigue, and muscle aches. However, Listeria infections during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery, or life-threatening infection of the newborn.
    • People who are not pregnant may experience headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, and convulsions, in addition to fever and muscle aches.

Learn more about a variety of food safety issues in TAINTED. From Farm Gate to Dinner Plate, Fifty Years of Food Safety Failures, now available in digital, print and audiobook editions.

TAINTED formats 3
“Reads like a true crime novel” – Food Safety News

Back in the game

The FoodBugLady is back at her desk after a month-long family road trip from Victoria, BC, to Knowlton, QC, and back again in our electric vehicle

We logged ~9,000km as we visited family and friends in Ontario and Quebec.

The trip was a challenge, as there are stretches along the Trans Canada Highway where high speed charging stations are sparse. If you are interested in reading about our road trip, please keep an eye on my writing blog. Over the course of the next couple of weeks, I’ll be posting stories and pictures there.

I also expect to begin a new eFoodAlert series of “good news” posts–stories about companies, government agencies, NGOs and industry associations who have made a positive impact on food safety. I’ll be researching these over the coming weeks and will post the stories, perhaps as a monthly feature.

Tomorrow, I shall resume my regular posting of Recalls and Alerts.