Reportable Food Registry gets results

by Jay Sjerven
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In its first full year of operation, the Reportable Food Registry (R.F.R.) alerted the Food and Drug Administration about several potential risks to food safety, enabling the agency to recall certain food ingredients and zero in on food categories and hazards that require increased attention in planning food safety inspections, according to a report issued in January by the F.D.A. The agency also credited the R.F.R. for bringing to the attention of industry significant hazards it should address in efforts to reduce the potential for food-borne illness outbreaks.

The report, titled “The Reportable Food Registry: A New Approach to Targeting Inspection Resources and Identifying Patterns of Adulteration,” provides an accounting of R.F.R.’s operations from Sept. 8, 2009-Sept. 7, 2010.

The R.F.R. was created under the Food and Drug Administration Amendments Act of 2007 as an electronic portal through which food manufacturers, packers, warehouses and other “responsible parties” are required to notify the F.D.A. of a “reportable food,” an article of food or feed for which there is “reasonable probability” its use may cause serious adverse health consequences or death.

Submissions to the R.F.R. electronic portal provide an early warning to the F.D.A. about potential public health risks and increase the speed with which the agency and its partners at the state and local levels investigate the reports and take follow-up action, including ensuring reportable foods are removed from commerce when necessary.

“This report is a measure of our success in receiving early warning on problems with food and feed,” said Michael R. Taylor, the F.D.A.’s deputy-commissioner for foods. “The data in this report represent an important tool for targeting our inspection resources, bringing high-risk commodities into focus and driving positive changes in industry practices — all of which will better protect the public health.”

The report indicated there were 2,240 entries into the R.F.R. during the first year, including 229 primary (initial) reports and 1,872 subsequent reports, which were follow-ups to the primary reports. Of the 229 primary reports, 201, or 88%, were related to human food, 13 applied to pet food and 15 applied to animal feed.

The 229 primary R.F.R. entries encompassed seven categories of food safety hazards (E. coli O157:H7, Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, uneviscerated fish, foreign objects, undeclared allergens/intolerances, and other hazards) distributed across 25 commodities.

The two primary food hazards reported to the F.D.A. were Salmonella, which accounted for 86 primary entries, or 38% of all primary entries in the R.F.R., and undeclared allergens, which accounted for 80 entries, or 35% of all primary reports. The F.D.A. said these two food safety hazards warrant industry attention, and the agency was able to point to constructive industry response.

Of the entries relating to Salmonella, 16 reports involved spices and seasonings. One of the entries involved a Tennessee food manufacturer’s receipt of a shipment of hydrolyzed vegetable protein that through testing the manufacturer determined was contaminated with Salmonella. An F.D.A. investigation ensued that resulted in 1,001 subsequent reports being entered into the registry and in 177 food products being removed from the market. The F.D.A. said largely in response to these entries and actions, a national trade association began to develop guidance for its members on how they may reduce risk of pathogen contamination in their products.

Of the entries relating to undeclared allergens/intolerance, 14 were submitted in association with baked products. The F.D.A. reported that in response, “a national baking trade association is reviewing and enhancing its guidance on preventing unintended allergens from being introduced into bakery products.”

The F.D.A. said early detection of food safety risks by means of the R.F.R. enables the agency to investigate existing or emerging issues and implement targeted regulatory strategies to mitigate or eliminate a concern before it becomes a major problem or a food-borne illness outbreak.

Mr. Taylor said, “Several key U.S. industries are already reevaluating their hazards and preventive controls, core principles of the Food Safety Modernization Act recently passed by Congress. We anticipate improved reporting as we continue our vigorous outreach to food facilities through federal, state, local and foreign agencies, to help us expand the positive effect of the R.F.R. on the safety of the U.S. food supply.”

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