OFPA hears of progress and problems in food safety

April 8, 2011
Contact Information:

Dr. Renee Threlfall, Department of Food Science
479-575-4677 / rthrelf@uark.edu

By Dave Edmark, Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station
479-575-5647 / dedmark@uark.edu

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SPRINGDALE, Ark. – Standards for food safety plans, the nation’s new food safety law, product fraud and agriterrorism highlighted the educational presentations April 6 at the annual Ozark Food Processors Association Convention and Exposition.

The Global Food Safety Initiative reviews food safety schemes and encourages retailers, food service and manufacturers to choose from those plans, said Rena Pierami, vice president of auditing at Silliker, Inc. By benchmarking these standards, GFSI promotes a vision of “once certified, accepted everywhere.” GFSI seeks to reduce food safety risks and manage risks through certification of industrial food safety schemes.

At companies using food safety plans built from commonly recognized benchmarks, “when something does break, it enables us to go in and find what caused it,” Pierami explained. Auditors from the GFSI examine the approved schemes, which are then adopted by certified suppliers.

In the United States, the Food Safety Modernization Act went into effect early this year but its full effects won’t be known for years to come as the regulatory process begins implementing its provisions, said Harrison Pittman, director of the National Agricultural Law Center at the University of Arkansas.

The new law, which Pittman described as shifting policy from reacting to food safety problems to preventing them, amends the 1930s law that has governed the federal Food and Drug Administration. It does not affect areas of meat and poultry that are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In addition to implementing the law through the development of agency rules and regulations, which Pittman said “is intended to be a long-term process,” the law must also be funded before its provisions can be effective. Meanwhile, the law mandates the FDA to establish comprehensive risk-based and prevention-based controls across the food supply chain. Food processing facilities must write plans that show areas for preventing pathogenic contamination, Pittman said.

Other provisions of the law include requirements that high-risk facilities must be inspected within five years of the law’s enactment. It also allows FDA to mandate a processor to recall contaminated food, a contrast from earlier law that permitted companies to voluntarily recall products but that didn’t give the government the authority to require recalls.

Pittman added that food importers must now verify that their foreign suppliers have implemented adequate preventive controls to keep food safe. Foreign facilities that export food to the United States must register with the FDA every two years.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association recently led a study of “economic adulteration” of food products, which could become a serious health and economic issue, said Stefan Ehling, an analytic chemist for GMA. Economic adulteration includes the fraudulent addition of unapproved enhancements to products, mislabeling, dilution of products and counterfeit labeling. Ehling said such adulteration can be done by anyone with access to the process starting with the producer. The solution is for processors to verify all the sources within their supply chains. Ehling said the FDA has implemented a program called PREDICT (Predictive Risk-based Evaluation for Dynamic Import Compliance Targeting) to score the level of risk associated with imported products that could have been economically adulterated.

Agriterrorism – intentional criminal acts on the food system and agricultural industry -- would be easier to cause in the United States than people might think, said Dustan Clark, a U of A Extension poultry health veterinarian. American agriculture is vulnerable through points of animal movement, animal production methods and crop destruction.

Diseases from foreign animals would be efficient agents for agriterrorism. The transfer of those diseases to American livestock could be accomplished through low-cost and low-technology means that would be difficult to trace, Clark said. Results could be devastating, Clark noted as he cited the deaths of 10 million animals from foot-and-mouth disease in the United Kingdom. An FMD outbreak in the United States would take five days to be detected, would spread to 40 states within 30 days and could result in the loss of 23 million animals, Clark said.

Avian influenza can have similar impact on poultry. Clark said the accidental release of the H7N1 virus in the Netherlands in 2003 led to the deaths of 28 million birds.

Mark Cochran, U of A vice president for agriculture, welcomed the audience to the convention and commended OFPA for its partnership with the university in research efforts and support for scholarships.

The OFPA convention opened April 5 with its annual golf tournament held at Shadow Valley Country Club in Rogers. Eighty-two golfers played in the event with proceeds benefiting the OFPA scholarship fund. The day's activities included U of A food science students’ research poster competition. Scholarship recipients and poster competition winners were recognized at that evening’s banquet. Scholarships sponsored by OFPA and its members were awarded to 15 students.

The OFPA Exposition this year attracted 64 exhibitors with more than 300 people attending.