It came as no surprise that 54-year old Frank M. Yiannas, FDA’s newly named deputy commissioner for food policy and response, would be the one for the job.
After the romaine lettuce fiasco and deadly E. coli outbreak linked to it earlier this year, somebody had to tell the fresh produce industry they have only until September 2019 to get on a blockchain network to track their product from farm to store.
Yiannas, who is stepping down as vice president for food safety over Walmart and Sam’s Club stores, barely gave the produce industry more than a year to provide “end-to-end” traceability of fruits and vegetables back to the field where they were grown. Produce without such traceback information won’t be sold at any of the 11,718 Walmart stores and Sam’s Clubs in the 28 countries that Walmart operates under 59 different names.
The man Yiannas is replacing at FDA, Dr. Stephen Ostroff, will retire next January. This past year has been a frustrating one for Ostroff. Canal water near Yuma, AZ, contaminated romaine lettuce with E.coli O157:H7, causing an outbreak that sickened 210 in 36 states, and leading to five deaths.
FDA was caught between warning consumers not to eat any romaine lettuce or to only avoid eating lettuce from the “Yuma growing region.” Ostroff let the International Association for Food Protection (IAFP) know FDA did not like being in that position when he spoke at its annual meeting in July.
Yet, no one is surprised that Yiannas is willing to give up his job for a retail powerhouse like Walmart. He’s been stepping up to food safety leadership there for years. Some of his colleagues, however, are wondering why he’d want to take a pay cut.
With a bachelor’s degree in microbiology from the University of Central Florida and a master’s in public health from the University of South Florida, Yiannas was the safety and health director at Walt Disney World for two decades before moving to Walmart. He’s been vice president of food safety for Walmart for the past 12 years. He is also a past president of IAFP.
If there is such a thing as a utility infielder at FDA, it is the role that Ostroff has filled for the past five. On two occasions, for a total of 15 months, he was FDA’s Acting Commissioner. He joined FDA in 2013 as Chief Medical Officer and then became Chief Scientist. He succeeded Mike Taylor as FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine.
Before his service at FDA, Dr. Ostroff served as Deputy Director of the National Center for Infectious Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At CDC Ostroff focused on emerging infectious diseases, food safety, and coordination of complex outbreak response. He retired from the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service at the rank of Rear Admiral (Assistant Surgeon General). Ostroff was also the Director of the Bureau of Epidemiology and Acting Physician General for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and has consulted internationally on public health projects in South Asia and Latin America.
Ostroff graduated from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in 1981 and completed residencies in internal medicine at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center and preventive medicine at CDC.
“Throughout my time as Commissioner, I’ve relied on Dr. Ostroff’s deep experience, thoughtful perspective, and strong leadership during many complicated and pivotal policy discussions, food outbreaks, and recall events,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a new release yesterday.
“Frank Yiannas is a passionately committed food safety leader who knows how the world works,” said Mike Taylor, who now co-chairs the board of the illness victims organization Stop Foodborne Illness. “Frank’s deep commitment to public health and the well being of consumers makes him a perfect fit for his new role at FDA.”
Yiannas will arrive at a slightly reorganized FDA. He will be heading the Office of Food Policy and Response with outbreak response and implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) being among its responsibilities. The position of Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine has been eliminated.
Yiannas will also have to address some remaining gaps in enforcement of the congressionally mandated rules of FSMA. The E. coli outbreak involving romaine lettuce this year means the FSMA’s water quality provisions are going to come in for renewed scrutiny. And FDA’s failure to identify “high-risk” foods is the subject of a new federal court case against FDA filed earlier this week.
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