F.D.A. pilot projects to trace foodborne illnesses

by Eric Schroeder
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WASHINGTON — The Food and Drug Administration today unveiled two new pilot projects that are expected to enhance the agency’s and industry’s ability to trace products responsible for foodborne illness outbreaks.

The Institute of Food Technologists (I.F.T.), a nonprofit scientific society consisting of professionals engaged in food science, food technology, and related professions, will carry out the pilots at the direction of the F.D.A., under an existing F.D.A. contract.

The F.D.A. is required as part of the Food Safety Modernization Act to establish at least two pilot projects: one involving produce and one involving processed foods. Additionally, the act directs the F.D.A. to establish recordkeeping requirements for high-risk foods to help in tracing products.

“We can prevent illnesses and reduce the economic impact to the food industry if we can more quickly determine what foods may be causing an outbreak and what foods can be eliminated from consideration,” said Michael R. Taylor, F.D.A. deputy commissioner for foods. “We recognize the importance of engaging stakeholders throughout the process and will consider what is practical for facilities of varying sizes and capabilities.”

According to the F.D.A., the pilots will evaluate methods and technologies for rapid and effective tracing of foods, including types of data that are useful for tracing, ways to connect the various points in the supply chain, and how quickly the data are made available to the F.D.A.

Key stakeholder groups, including industry, government, and consumers, will have input into the pilots, and efforts will be made to include those representing the food supply chain — from farms to restaurants and grocery stores, the F.D.A. said.

After the pilots are completed and additional data is gathered, the F.D.A. said it will initiate rulemaking on recordkeeping requirements for high-risk foods to facilitate tracing. The FDA will hold three public meetings during the comment period on the proposed rule.

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