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Salmonella Again Tops Reportable Food Registry Hazards

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Thursday released its second annual review of the Reportable Food Registry, the program that requires domestic and foreign food makers to report potentially hazardous foods that have entered U.S. commerce.

 

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The program’s second year of operation, from Sept. 8, 2010 to Sept. 7 2011, included 882 reports of hazardous human and animal foods, including 225 “primary reports” on particular food items. That compares with the 2,240 reports entered in the first year, of which 229 were primary reports. (The FDA attributed the difference to three food items that received a huge number of secondary reports the first year.) 

Despite the drop in secondary reports, the FDA saw the number of “amended reports” — reports that correct or add to primary reports – increase from 139 to 174 (25 percent) this year. The increase suggests more facilities are investigating problems and following up on their causes with the FDA.

Salmonella contamination prompted 38.2 percent of this year’s reports, while undeclared allergens accounted for 33.3 percent and Listeria accounted for 17.8 percent. That compares similarly with the first year, when Salmonella made 37.6 percent, undeclared allergens 30.1 percent and Listeria 14.4 percent.

E. coli O157:H7 accounted for 0.4 percent of contaminants reported this year and 2.6 percent the year before.

The review provided three examples of instances over the last year where the FDA said the reporting system helped remove food from retail before causing harm:

- A company submitted a primary report for frozen breaded seafood that contained undeclared peanut protein, a major allergen. Twenty subsequent reports followed from places that had received the products, and the food was all recalled before any consumers reported allergic reactions.

- A pet treat company discovered that its pig ear dog treats were contaminated with Salmonella and filed a primary report. The FDA was able to coordinate a recall of the affected treats from the 18 states where they were shipped.

- A packing company discovered that grape tomatoes from a Florida farm tested positive for Salmonella — after the tomatoes had been shipped to 10 states and Canada. The primary report prompted 64 subsequent reports and a recall, with no illnesses reported.

Dividing the primary reports between 22 separate food categories, the review found few big changes from one year to the next in regard to the number of reports filed. The most notable change was in produce, which saw 27 reports the first year and 36 the second.

Of course, the review points out that, “With only two years of data, it would be premature to make meaningful statements about trends or patterns.”

Imported food accounted for 56 (25 percent) of all primary reports in year two, compared with 53 (23 percent) the year before. Between the two years, 31 countries have imported potentially contaminated food that was reported in the Reportable Food Registry.

Next, the Food Safety Modernization Act will bring some changes to the registry program. Parties responsible for reported food will soon be required to submit consumer-oriented information on the food, such as UPC, SKU or lot batch numbers for consumer identification, along with contact information for the responsible party.

The FDA will then synthesize this information into a one-page summary, to be published on FDA.gov, which grocery stores will be able to easily print and post to notify customers. Grocery store chains with 15 or more locations will be required to display those one-page summaries within 24 hours of the notice appearing on the FDA’s website, and must keep them displayed for at least 14 days.

Among other things, the FDA’s review of the Reportable Food Registry program declares that the program has increased the speed with which federal, state and local officials investigate harmful foods and recall them when necessary. It has also improved FDA’s ability to understand food supply chains, identify key risk points and coordinate between FDA and state and local regulators.

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