I came across a posting on BusinessAssurance.com alerting its readers to a recent report that is titled: Keeping America’s Food Safe: A Blueprint for Fixing the Food Safety System at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This report was authored by Trust for America’s Health; a non-profit organization dedicated to making disease prevention a national priority, and was supported by a grant from The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. For convenience, I will also provide the report download link.

The report should provide rather interesting reading for those of you who are involved in food or drug-related supply chains for the sobering messages related to the current state of regulatory controls and oversight that currently exists. One particular statistic cited on the BusinessAssurance.com post caught my eye: Only one percent of imported foods are currently inspected, even though approximately 60 percent of fresh fruits and vegetables and 75 percent of seafood Americans consume is imported.

Highlights of the concerns raised by the noted TAH report that I found significant were:

 

  • The U.S. food safety system has not been fundamentally modernized since its inception over 100 years ago.

 

  • A 2007 GAO report noted that: “the federal oversight of food safety is fragmented, with 15 agencies collectively administering at least 30 laws related to food safety.’

 

  • There is no single official at FDA whose full-time job is food safety, and who has authority over all elements of FDA’s food safety program.  (My bolding) FDA managers usually focus on drugs and medical devices, but get dragged into food safety during a crisis. This made me think that the FDA must really be in crisis mode right now.

 

  • Too few inspection points and resources, and a current focus primarily on products in a finished state, vs. upstream processes related to the supply chain.

 

So far in 2009 we have had two major salmonella contamination incidents involving food, the latest being an evolving incident of pistachios (noted in yesterday’s post). In 2008, the salmonella incident of what was originally believed to be tomatoes, took weeks to trace to jalapeno and Serrano peppers originating in Mexico.  The FDA and supporting federal agencies performed yeoman work in tracing and uncovering sources of these contaminations, in spite of the above described deficiencies noted in TAH report.  But I for one wonder how much other oversight work was compromised or set aside because of crisis.

Supply Chain Matters has previously commended both the food and drug industries for taking self-initiatives to more adequately control quality and safety across their respective supply chains.  In my view, this TAH report is another sobering reminder that incidents will continue unless and until further joint industry and government mitigation initiatives are implemented. Technology should also play a major role, and surely could be applied to increase supply chain visibility and oversight.

How many more incidents of food safety can we tolerate in 2009, and is the clock ticking for a major drug incident?

Bob Ferrari