PulseNet will add to food safety challenges

by FoodBusinessNews.net Staff
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COLORADO SPRINGS, COLO. — Michael P. Doyle, regents professor and director of the University of Georgia Center for Food Safety in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Athens, outlined several significant challenges facing food and beverage manufacturers during the Grocery Manufacturers Association’s Executive Conference, held Aug. 29 to Sept. 1, in Colorado Springs. Dr. Doyle said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, through the PulseNet system, is identifying new ingredients that may be high risk for causing foodborne illness, but were not recognized as high risk in the past.

PulseNet is a national network of public health and food regulatory agency laboratories coordinated by the C.D.C. The network consists of: state health departments, local health departments, and federal agencies such as the C.D.C. as well as the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.

"What the C.D.C. and state health departments have built is an incredible system," he said. "PulseNet has gotten so good it is picking up outbreaks that five years ago would not have been picked up."

He said that on average the C.D.C. is monitoring about 30 clusters of foodborne illness outbreaks per day and they are now reporting about 1,200 to 1,500 outbreaks per year.

"These outbreaks have identified new ingredients that are very high risk that we would not have recognized as high risk in the past," he said. "Peanut butter is a good example.

Other ingredients identified as potentially "high risk" by Dr. Doyle include chocolate, peanut paste, nuts, spices and even flour.

"Most recently we have had problems with cookie dough and we have had other problems with foods such as cake flour batter," he said. "The cake flour batter was not eaten cooked, and it (the source of the contamination) went back potentially to the flour. So there are now questions about flour as being a potentially high risk ingredient because apparently people are not always cooking flour containing foods before eating."

He said he views imports as another challenging area for the food and beverage industry, because some countries where ingredients are sourced from do not have the same food safety standards as the United States.

"We know some suppliers from some of these countries use fraudulent practices," he said. "The melamine issue is a good example of this."

He said another concern for companies is secondary suppliers.

"A primary supplier to a company may be all right, but a secondary supplier to the primary supplier may source ingredients from sources that you as a purchaser would not accept."

Mr. Doyle added that the F.D.A. will be introducing more advanced methods for detecting foodborne pathogens and toxicants, and the agency also will be increasing the percentage of food imports that are tested.

"The hard part for them (C.D.C.) right now is to detect outbreaks from minor ingredients that go into a lot of different foods," he said. "I will predict that those problems will be fixed in a few years and we will find that a whole lot more minor ingredients, like spices, will be potential problems."

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