The U.S. Food and Drug Administration took steps this month to improve its ability to track patterns in food adulteration with its Reportable Foods Registry. The Reportable Foods Registry, or RFR, is an online portal where companies are required to report foods they have manufactured that may be dangerous to human or animal health. Public health officials may also report food adulteration there, but this reporting is optional. FDA is updating the RFR questionnaire so that the agency can gather more detailed information about each case in the hopes of gaining better insight into how adulteration occurs. The goal of the RFR, which was created in 2009, is to find trends in food adulteration to help FDA figure out the most effective ways to focus its limited inspection resources to prevent problems. The new data fields in RFR allow reporters to input the specific agent of contamination, i.e. “Salmonella,” or “peanut,” and, in the case of bacterial contamination, asks whether a bacterial isolate is available. It also requests more details about the product in question and asks reporters whether the product has been removed from the market. “As [RFR] lives and it’s been utilized, we’ve learned a lot,” explains Kathy Gombas, Acting Director of the Office of Food Safety Communication and Emergency Response at FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN). “We’ve realized that we really need to clarify by adding these additional elements to help improve the quality of the information we’re receiving,” says Gombas, also the project leader for the RFR system. In addition to helping FDA improve inspection overall, the data from RFR will also help the agency respond to recall situations more efficiently. With more information about where a food was sourced and distributed, the agency can make faster decisions about what other foods may need to be recalled, and can expedite its investigation into the problem. In total, FDA added 14 new data fields to the Registry. They include:
1. The reason the food has been determined to be reportable (agent); 2. A description of the root cause of the reportable food (if applicable); 3. A brief justification of the process used to determine which product(s), lot(s), or batch(es) were affected; 4. Whether or not the submitter believes all of the reportable food has been removed from commerce; 5. A brief description of the corrective actions taken to avoid repeating the reportable event; 6. The commodity type of the reportable food; 7. The dates that the product was manufactured; 8. Whether or not the reportable food underwent treatment to reduce microorganisms; 9. A brief description of the microbial reduction treatment; 10. Whether or not a bacterial isolate is available for FDA collection; 11. For reportable foods intended for animal consumption, the animal species that the reportable food was intended to be consumed by; 12. For reportable foods intended for animal consumption, the life stage of the animal that the reportable food was intended to be consumed by; 13. Whether the responsible party has notified all of its immediate previous sources (suppliers) of the reportable food (if applicable); and 14. Whether the responsible party has notified all of its immediate subsequent recipients (customers) for the reportable food (if applicable).
“At the end of the year when we put out our annual [RFR] reports, the idea is with enough years in there, we’d be able to spot trends,” said Sebastian Cianci, a representative for CFSAN, in an interview with Food Safety News. “By having these other elements we’ll have greater certainty in what the trends are and perhaps be able to tease out what some of the root causes are more quickly.” While answering these new questions is currently optional for reporters, it will become mandatory soon, and FDA recommends that companies start answering them now in order to provide the most thorough information. “Since we announced this on June 4 we’ve actually received some reports with the industry inputting these new data elements,” Gombas told Food Safety News. She says that since its inception, RFR has already helped FDA pinpoint adulteration trouble spots and increased company accountability. “As this system has operated for the last almost 3 years, it has also provided in the annual reports areas where we can see that industry is developing new guidance,” she says. “They’re actually seeing that these are signals and they’re trying to be proactive.” The portal for the Reportable Foods Registry is available at www.SafetyReporting.hhs.gov.