Editor’s note:  Guest opinions columns and editorials or what we call “op-eds” are an important part of Food Safety News. Since we got our start more than a decade ago, we’ve published hundreds of such submissions.   Many have been penned by the most influential people in food safety. We look back at a few of these submissions from 2019.

Preventative care: Increasing hepatitis A vaccinations among food service workers

Requiring mandatory (hepatitis A) vaccinations for food service workers is important for public safety and public health, especially since our global food trade is projected to increase over the years, increasing the probability of foodborne disease outbreaks.

“Further, implementing a mandatory vaccination policy ensures high uptake, which is required to prevent future outbreaks. Evidence shows that vaccination is the most effective and efficient way to reduce the prevalence of viruses. Furthermore, once individuals are vaccinated, they have permanent immunity.” 

— By Jamie Ragos, the current holder of The Dave Theno Fellowship for Food Safety
Dec. 9, 2019

Meet Mitzi Baum: New CEO at Stop Foodborne Illness

Three areas of strategic work for Stop in 2020.

“Constituent Services
Our constituency, or friends of Stop that have been impacted by foodborne illness, is our foundation.  The strategic outcome of our work is to build out constituent services support.  This effort includes an overhaul of our website to provide 1-click/2-click access to essential information and (1) the Peer to Peer program; (2) Speakers Bureau; (3) the Alliance; and, (4) developing additional opportunities for constituents to engage.

“Food Safety Policy
This past year, our focus on food safety policy has been directed toward traceability. Stop’s board co-chair, Mike Taylor, has been leading this endeavor by working with like-minded consumer advocacy groups and industry on the Romaine Task Force.  We’re looking forward to charting the progress of this work in the next calendar year and sharing the progress of this important initiative.

“Early Detection
Early detection is an important initiative to raise awareness of the impact of foodborne illness.  In conjunction with our Dave Theno Fellow’s work on long-term consequences of foodborne disease, focusing on early detection and the broad implementation of the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) guidelines to reduce pain and suffering, extended hospital stays and life-long physical and psychological impacts will be an area of focus for Stop in the next year.

“The Stop team has been working to position ourselves to launch into this work at the start of 2020.  To accomplish these ambitious goals, we need your support.  With the public’s tax-deductible financial donations, we will build upon the foundation and not just grow but we’ll rewrite the story with these three measurable, strategic goals.  Please go to http://bit.ly/rewrite-the-story to support our 2020 vision.”

— By Mitzi Baum, CEO at Stop Foodborne Illness
Dec.9, 2019

Tangible benefits’ from standards and testing include fewer illnesses

FSIS should revisit and modernize its approach to performance standards. We now know more about the specific serotypes of Salmonella that cause illness and have new gene-based tools for detecting these serotypes in food.

“We also know more about the relative virulence of various serotypes and the levels associated with human illness. All of this new knowledge should be harnessed to consider performance standards that are more science-based and public health-focused, such as by targeting specific serotypes and setting quantified limits. As we did with E. coli O157:H7, particularly hazardous strains of Salmonella could be declared unsafe in any amount were scientifically justified.

“I also think we need a broader dialogue among industry and consumer stakeholders about reducing risks at every point in the supply chain. This is especially true for poultry, where infection rates on-farm and at slaughter are very high. FSIS lacks authority to directly address Salmonella and Campylobacter on farms, where these bacteria originate, but we know we need to do more in these places. Prevention needs to be built into food production, processing, and marketing from the beginning.”

— From a Q&A with Mike Taylor
Dec. 2, 2019

Time to Talk Turkey about the FDA — and that’s a good thing

Around the Thanksgiving table, we can see the positive role of the agency in our everyday lives. The biggest item on the table — the turkey — is regulated by USDA (you knew that), but consider who has oversight over the feed to make the turkey grow (FDA), any medicines to keep it healthy (FDA), the stuffing to go in it (FDA), and the gravy to go on it (FDA). Plus safe food handling processes and directions are found on the FDA website. (Check it out!) Other items likely to be on the table are regulated at some point by the FDA: the sweet potatoes, the string beans, the cranberries, and the pumpkin pie.

“Sharing the Thanksgiving tables with our family and friends, many of whom can lead productive and caring lives because FDA-approved medical products play a role in extending their healthy lives. I think about my grandfather, who died at 60 from a stroke before I could enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner with him. The FDA-approved medicines we have today would almost certainly have prevented the stroke. If a stroke occurred, he would have been diagnosed and treated more rapidly at the emergency room with FDA-approved tests, imaging equipment and therapies, that were unavailable several decades ago.

“His daughter — my mother — celebrated her 97th birthday this year and will be at the head of our table at Thanksgiving. It has taken a lot of FDA-approved medicines (innovator, generic, OTC, and supplements) and a number of FDA-approved devices and equipment for her to have lived more than 50% longer than her father.”

— By Steven Grossman, deputy executive director of the Alliance for a Stronger FDA
Nov. 28, 2019

Romaine confusion and clarity from the produce industry perspective

Currently, the linkage across the majority of cases of illness and epidemiology information gathered by interviews and other standard methods does not provide the FDA enough traceback information to identify the specific source(s) of the contamination that would allow a targeted recall from specific growers.

“Some clusters are specific enough to direct the FDA and state agencies to conduct the environmental investigation at specific farm sites this week. In addition, the FDA has stated that state partners are conducting laboratory analyses of retained romaine lettuce samples from case-patients potentially linked to the outbreak.

“Additional development has been the dialogue around the planned introduction of the Expanded Food Safety Inspection Act by U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of NY. The intent is to explicitly give FDA the authority to conduct environmental investigative sampling at any location it deems necessary to pursue a source of contamination. The focus would include animal feeding operations, compost facilities, and other non-target and off-farm locations deemed relevant. FDA does not currently have full authority to conduct this type of sampling but in 2018 FDA investigators were eventually allowed access and did take limited samples at the CAFO operation in the Yuma region.”

— By Trevor Suslow,  vice president for Produce Safety at the Produce Marketing Association 
Nov. 27, 2019

Letter from the Editor: Let’s call the whole thing off

By Dan Flynn, Nov 24

For the past three weeks, Food Safety News has published warnings about the lack of credibility of both the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“We thought the warning was justified because the FDA and CDC were caught hiding the existence of the fourth outbreak of E. coli O157: H7 due to contaminated romaine lettuce. We now count five romaine-caused E. coli outbreaks since late 2017, so it is not surprising they thought they could hide one.

“The two federal agencies managed to keep their little secret going for six weeks. We thought their behavior deserved punishment, but other than putting them on double-secret probation, there was not much we could do.

“Then we decided  Food Safety News would issue warnings to our readers about FDA’s and CDC’s lack of credibility. The plan was to issue these warnings for six weeks, the same time period during which they played hide the outbreak.   We thought readers should know the two federal agencies might as easily be lying as telling the truth.

“So then for the last time,  here’s what we are dropping three weeks early:

Editor’s note on Opinion originally posted Nov. 3: At this time, the credibility of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is not to be trusted. Both agencies have shown a reckless disregard for the public’s right to know, and their reliability going forward remains suspect. For the next six weeks, Food Safety News will publish this note above on every story involving the FDA or CDC.

“It was three weeks of fun.”

— By FSN Editor Dan Flynn
Nov 24, 2019

Exploring the technology of food safety culture with the FDA’s Yiannas

Frank Yiannas, nearing completion of his first year as FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response, opened the 2019 Food Safety Consortium Conference recently in Schaumburg, IL. This was his third time to present at the event. His first two were while serving as Walmart’s global vice president for food safety.

“The man’s passion for food safety continued to be evident as he revisited a topic he has long raised as a mission-critical flag — the culture of food safety.

“Yiannas literally wrote the book on the topic with the publishing of his “Food Safety Culture: Creating a Behavior-Based Food Safety Management System.” Food safety was defined simply as “behavior” and Yiannas shared his vision of the sea change we are experiencing. He described the creation of a “new era of smarter food safety.”

“Technology investment is leading a “revolution” where food systems are increasingly digitized, according to the FDA’s top food safety person. Deep-dive data is driving actionable information and innovation.

“Comments about the Food Safety Modernization Act were woven though much of Yiannas’s presentation, highlighting the 2011 introduction of it as a valuable foundation on which to apply many new and emerging technologies. He also reflected on his industry experience when he advised the audience that “. . . only the simple solutions will be implemented.”

— By Jim Mann, Oct. 24

Safe food requires transparency and accountability

The hog slaughter modernization rule, however, gets rid of the scorekeeping. It removes codified Salmonella pathogen reduction performance standards for hog carcasses and replaces them with a requirement that plants conduct microbiological testing of their choice. In this way, it gives companies “flexibility” to determine whether they are maintaining “process control.

“And it also makes comparing Salmonella contamination levels at two plants impossible, because government inspectors will not collect samples from plants to determine compliance with any set standard. 

“To be fair, the old pathogen reduction performance standards were outdated, and government inspectors actually stopped collecting samples to test compliance with them during the Obama Administration. But that’s not because Salmonella and other pathogens are no longer a problem in pork. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), pork causes over half a million cases of foodborne illness in the U.S. each year. And FSIS has a standard to measure progress towards reducing those illnesses.”

By Thomas Gremillion,
Oct. 7, 2019

Why we are modernizing swine slaughter inspection

In my role at USDA, I oversee the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and its team of scientists, veterinarians, inspection personnel, and policy experts. These dedicated career civil servants have been working to modernize meat and poultry slaughter inspection and bring it into the 21st century. In fact, FSIS just announced its final rule called the Modernization of Swine Slaughter Inspection.

“This rule has been in the works for four presidential administrations. It has key provisions based on science to improve food safety that is getting overlooked by those that oppose modernization efforts.

“The final rule has new requirements that all swine slaughter establishments must conduct additional microbial testing to ensure that they are controlling for pathogens throughout the slaughter system. Who can argue with that? Who doesn’t want slaughterhouses to conduct more testing with the resulting data helping to drive food safety?

“Additionally, there is another part to the final rule that establishments can decide whether they wish to participate in – a new slaughter inspection process for market hogs. If establishments do not wish to participate in the new process, they will continue to operate under the traditional slaughter inspection system. This new system is based on a pilot program that FSIS initiated in 1997 in market hog slaughter establishments to determine whether new slaughter inspection procedures, along with new plant responsibilities, could improve food safety. After 20 years, FSIS determined, based on scientific data, that the five swine slaughter establishments that participated in the pilot performed as well as those under traditional slaughter inspection. This wasn’t a surprise because FSIS successfully modernized the poultry inspection system in 2014 during the Obama administration.

“The modernization of swine slaughter inspection ensures a safe product on your dinner table because every hog and carcass are inspected by USDA inspection personnel, as mandated by Congress. The valued USDA mark of inspection is applied by federal inspectors only on meat that is safe to eat.”

By USDA’s Mindy Brashears
Sept. 19. 2019

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