Report recommends ways to improve produce safety

by Staff
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WASHINGTON — The outbreak of food borne illness caused by Salmonella Saintpaul this summer that sickened 1,400 revealed a dysfunctional system that includes government regulatory agencies and public health professionals. As a result of the outbreak, government and industry representatives called for an analysis of the response to the outbreak and recommendations for improvement. In an effort to contribute to the analysis, the Produce Safety Project, an initiative of the Pew Charitable Trusts at Georgetown University, has published a report, "Breakdown: Lessons to be learned from the 2008 Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak," in an effort to improve the system.

Recommendations made within the report include:

• The need for the Food and Drug Administration to use its existing statutory authorities to establish mandatory and enforceable safety standards for fresh produce;

• The need for organizational reforms throughout the public health system for a more coordinated outbreak response; and

• The need to have established and unified risk communication plans in place before an outbreak. The report documents "dueling" public health messages from various agencies announcing the outbreak, and questions why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed its presentation of data numerous times in the middle of the outbreak.

"Many of these problems have been identified for years by expert body after expert body," said Jim O’Hara, director of the Produce Safety Project. "If we pass up this opportunity to learn from this most recent outbreak, we will keep repeating the same costly mistakes — for public health and industry alike."

The full P.S.P. report may be viewed by visiting

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