Inside the FDA: Food Safety in 2010

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Saying goodbye to 2009 won't be too difficult for those of us in the food safety arena. The last year illustrated that the fight against foodborne illness has not yet been won. With headline outbreaks involving Salmonella in peanut butter and alfalfa sprouts and E. coli O157:H7 in cookie dough, we still have our work cut out for us.

But I believe the next decade will be different. This nation is at an historic tipping point when it comes to food safety. Congress is on the verge of passing legislation to usher in a new era of food safety in this country, with the fundamental goal of preventing food contamination and illness. The president, the public, and the industry have united in support for a stronger FDA. And our commissioner, Dr. Margaret Hamburg, has created a new Office of Foods to help unify and be accountable for all FDA foods efforts.

From those in the field, to the lab, to the office, we are working together to modernize our food safety program.

This may well be the Agency's greatest opportunity for real change to improve food safety in 100 years.

So I believe 2010 will be—must be—a groundbreaking year, which is why, within FDA, we are doing everything possible to prepare. Earlier this month, we launched the "One Mission, One Program" Initiative to design a unified FDA Foods Program. We want to be sure we are working cohesively together and making the best possible use of our resources and talents to improve food safety. This effort involves nearly 100 experts from throughout FDA who are charged with tackling cross-cutting issues critical to our success. It is not easy to change the way an organization operates. And for that change to be effective and sustainable, it must be shaped by those who actually do the day-to-day work.

From those in the field, to the lab, to the office, we are working together to modernize our food safety program. We're tackling fundamental questions that will lead to fundamental changes in the way we work within FDA and with partners outside FDA to prevent foodborne illness and outbreaks. For example:

    • As industry implements preventive food safety control systems, how can our headquarters and field staff work together and with industry to ensure that food-safety best practices increasingly become common practices?

    • How can FDA work with importers and foreign governments to better ensure the safety of food imports in our vast, global food supply?

    • How can we work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other partners to better target and prevent significant food safety risks? Do we have the data and analytical tools we need?

    • How can we work with others to learn from outbreaks so we can keep them from happening again?

    • How can FDA integrate its emergency preparedness and response roles with other federal, state, and local agencies?

Through this process, we are working to answer the tough questions and create a new operating norm for the FDA Foods Program, one in which our work will be seamless and collaborative, unified by the common goal of protecting public health. As one of our top enforcement officials, Steve Solomon, has said, "What I've found is that our employees come together like never before to work on public health emergencies. But too frequently, when an immediate emergency has passed, we go back to business as usual. What I find really exciting about the 'One Mission, One Program' initiative is to be able to change that so we are working collaboratively all the time."

We have a lot of work ahead of us in 2010 and beyond. I will keep you up-to-date on our progress and look forward to hearing from you about how we are doing.

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Michael Taylor is Deputy Commissioner for Foods at the Food and Drug Administration, where he is responsible for food safety and nutrition labeling.

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