Thursday, May 27, 2010 by Lee Mannering
A recent Government Accountability Office report noted that FDA has begun to take action to address weaknesses in food safety research, but that research gaps still remain. Related to fruits and vegetables, the study states that scientific food safety research in fresh produce is an area the agency should continue to strengthen. To enhance FDA’s oversight of fresh produce safety, GAO recommended that FDA develop a plan to identify research priorities and facilitate research related to fresh produce, as well as identify approaches for obtaining testing and other information from industry members to inform its research agenda.
In the report, FDA agreed with GAO’s recommendations, but noted that data and information from industry would further inform, rather than supplement, the agency’s research agenda and would also be used in agency risk assessments associated with fresh produce.
As FDA continues to work on building a research agenda, the industry is charging ahead with its. The Center for Produce Safety has been driving new studies and dialogue on produce safety since its inception. Over the past two years, CPS has developed a model for prioritizing and funding produce safety research by collaborating with public agencies and private businesses committed to advancing produce safety. The center is working its next grant awards and is hosting its first-ever Produce Research Symposium on Wednesday, June 23. This unique research event will present results of 11 CPS-funded research projects, along with an interactive discussion of the research’s real-world opportunities by leaders in produce, academia and government, including FDA.
PMA is very active in working with FDA on produce safety issues. Most recently we hosted FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods Mike Taylor and other high-level members of his team during a food safety discussion at our Board of Directors meeting in Tucson, Arizona, and facilitated a tour for them of key importers in Nogales. Last fall, PMA organized a tour of small family produce farms here in Delaware for FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg and other agency officials; a similar FDA tour in California was coordinated by the Center for Produce Safety a few weeks later. Our Chief Science Officer Dr. Bob Whitaker has provided critical insight to the agency in numerous comments and conversations on proposed commodity-specific food safety regulations, traceability, third-party testing certification, risk management, and other areas.
Speaking of food safety regulations, last week FDA announced it is extending to July 23 the comment period for its open docket to obtain comments and information about current practices and conditions for the production and packing of fresh produce. This is another opportunity for the industry to inform FDA as it begins laying the groundwork for an eventual produce safety rule.
As FDA continues its work, PMA remains committed to assisting the agency with answers to their technical questions and real-world perspectives into the complexities of our industry’s supply chain.