Agencies work to improve tracing of unsafe food products

A joint public meeting focused on improving the system for tracing food products and ingredients that are causing illness outbreaks or presenting other risks to the health of consumers is scheduled for Dec. 9 and 10 in Washington.

The Food and Drug Administration and the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the meeting Nov. 5.

Recognizing the need to increase the speed and accuracy of investigations into outbreaks, both agencies are building on existing efforts by seeking public input that would help identify elements of effective food product tracing systems, identify current gaps in food product tracing and suggest specific mechanisms for improvements.

The meeting is also intended to improve the ability of the FDA and FSIS to respond to outbreaks more quickly by rapidly identifying the source of contamination during outbreaks of food-borne illness, and improving the ability of all people in the supply chain to more quickly identify food that is (or potentially is) contaminated and remove it from the market.

"This public meeting provides an opportunity for FDA to collaborate more closely with FSIS as well as with members of the food industry, many of whom have been making important innovations in food safety practices and technology, and all of whom bear primary responsibility for producing and marketing safe food," said Michael R. Taylor, senior adviser to FDA's commissioner, Margaret Hamburg.

Food can become contaminated at many different steps in the supply chain. Experience in conducting food-borne disease outbreak investigations suggests that improved product tracing abilities could help identify products associated with disease more quickly, get risky products off the market faster, and reduce the number of sicknesses associated with food-borne illness outbreaks.

The FDA and FSIS share authority for helping to ensure the safety of the nation's food supply. Each agency investigates food-borne illness outbreaks and other food-borne risks associated with the products they regulate.

These investigations, conducted in close cooperation with the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention and state and local health and agriculture departments, often involve tracing backward or forward in the supply chain the distribution of food products and ingredients associated with risk to consumer health.

The meeting will take place Dec. 9 and 10 in Washington at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's South Building in the Jefferson Auditorium, 1400 Independence Ave. S.W.

Those interested in attending the public meeting can register online at