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FSIS, FDA leadership does yearly lounge act before IAFP

TAMPA, FL — Stephen Ostroff, deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Monday admitted to felling a little anxious about data showing the incidence of foodborne illnesses is not going down and, for some pathogens, is on the increase.

Stephen Ostroff answers a question during the annual regulatory update at the IAFP annual meeting Monday.

Ostroff, who has run the infectious disease assets of the Centers for Disease Control and twice served as acting FDA commissioner, is not one to worry, but before an audience of close of 1,000 at the International Association for Food Protection annual meeting, he made it clear that the time for FDA doing the same thing on the mere expectation that food safety will improve is over.

Ostrof and Carmen Rottenberg, deputy director of USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), appeared together at the IAFP conference at the Tampa Convention Center on Monday for the fourth “U.S. Regulatory Update on Food Safety.” Rottenberg filled in for her boss, Al Almanza due to his “hectic travel schedule,” she said.

Rottenberg spoke of the regulatory changes that FSIS has planned with rewritten rules now before the Executive Office of Management and Budget. These include swine slaughter, Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point planning for egg production, and a rule to allow Chinese poultry exports to the U.S.

The swine rule would follow on USDA’s 20-year pilot program and its poultry experience to reform a system that owners could still not change if they choose.

Carmen Rottenberg listens to a comment from an attendee during the annual regulatory update at the IAFP meeting Monday.

The deputy administrator used most of her time before the IAFP audience speaking about the FSIS five-year planning process. The agency has just ended its 2011-2016 plan, coming in “on target” with 28 goals, slightly missing five others, and totally missing the target on five. Its missed “key performance indicators” (KPI’s).

Three  missed KPIs involved adoption of a functional food defense plan, an illness measure, and percentage for young chicken — commonly referred to as broilers — establishments meeting Salmonella performance standards.

Rottenberg, who was formerly Almanza’s chief of staff, however, said much was accomplished during the first five-year plan and she anticipates more will occur during the 2017-22 plan, including more emphasis on collaboration with FDA. She said the plan provides a roadmap and illustrates the agency’s thinking.

For his part, Ostroff pointed to all the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) rules that have reached their compliance dates since IAFP’s’ 2016 meeting in St. Louis. Compliance dates, which have been reached for most large companies on almost all FSMA elements, mean FDA can begin enforcing the Act with the country’s largest companies. Medium and small companies will fall under FSMA provisions later, usually one to two years.

Congress approved the FSMA in late 2010. President Obama signed it into law on Jan. 4, 2011, but the vast bulk of the act wouldn’t be implemented until the complex rules were written. One of those, the produce rule, remains hung up because FDA has accepted growers’ arguments that there are problems that need to be worked out.

The tradition at these events is that the top government leaders take lounge chairs on the stage for questions. One questioner wanted to know if food safety was being damaged because to the “political situation” in Washington D.C., which was an apparent reference to President Donald Trump being in the White House.

Neither Rottenberg nor Ostroff acknowledged there was any kind of problem. Rottenberg said she has met with Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue several times, and as a veterinarian he’s inquisitive, but a food safety advocate.

Ostroff pointed to the support FDA is gaining for increased funding for food safety and was in agreement with Rottenberg.

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