Michael Taylor outlines food safety challenges

by Keith Nunes
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COLORADO SPRINGS, COLO. — While the food safety legislation that is currently pending before Congress has taken some time to work its way through the legislative process, Michael Taylor, deputy commissioner for food at the Food and Drug Administration and head of the Office of Foods, doesn’t see passage of the legislation as the hard part. The challenge will be implementing legislation that is designed to overhaul the nation’s food safety system.

Speaking during a session at the Grocery Manufacturers Association’s annual Executive Conference, held in late August in Colorado Springs, Mr. Taylor outlined what it will take to implement the new legislation once it is passed.

“With regard to this legislation we are keenly aware of what it will take to implement it,” he said. “I read the manager’s markup on the way out here to remind myself of the work that is going to be expected of the F.D.A. To implement the law will require 11 different regulations, 30 different guidances and all of this stuff is in response to having a clear mandate on food safety.

“We have actually begun rulemaking on two parts of the bill. One is preventive controls and building off of work we have been doing at F.D.A. for some years to update our current good manufacturing regulations. The modern G.M.P.s (good manufacturing practices) are really about preventive controls. We have also invested a lot in ensuring produce safety.”

Mr. Taylor said the legislation will introduce a paradigm shift in food safety to a focus on prevention.

“I think this is where we see the legislation being resoundingly strong,” he said. “We have created a mandate we have never had before to establish prevention as the bedrock principal of the system and empowering F.D.A. to establish minimum control standards across the whole food industry. The legislation also allows us to hold companies accountable when there is a problem.”

But Mr. Taylor emphasized that implementation of the legislation will not be a one-sided process. It will require significant input from food and beverage manufacturers.

“We are not going to be able to implement this without you, without your companies,” he said. “Whether it is at the rulemaking stage, which is the perfect time to comment on the rules of this legislation, we really need to be on the same page in order to implement this law successfully.
“Also, you can provide information to help us understand what the hazards are we should be focusing on. What are those leverage points for prevention in the food processing system? Where should we focus our inspection efforts?”

In a question and answer session following Mr. Taylor’s presentation, he was asked how the food industry may be able to help with the introduction of new processing technologies. Mr. Taylor focused his answer on microbial testing technologies.

“We are in a transition here from the more historical, traditional methods to new tools,” he said. “We need to work together to validate the best rapid methods from a speed standpoint (and) verification standpoint. The best tools we can use to implement the best process controls scientifically. There is a lot of work that needs to be done and there is a lot of work to be done within F.D.A. on that.”
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