Food safety, nutrition will receive significant attention in 2010

by Keith Nunes
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The economic recession and its multiple impacts on consumer spending habits, as well as the strategic initiatives taken by food and beverage companies, will remain key issues in 2010. But two other undertakings also will exert significant pressures on the industry during the year — the passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act and the introduction of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Already passed by the House, the proposed Food Safety Modernization Act has bi-partisan support in the Senate as well as the backing of numerous industry trade associations such as the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the National Restaurant Association and the American Frozen Food Institute. While no piece of legislation should be considered a sure bet for passage, this act appears to be on track for passage by the Senate during January or February and reconciled in the spring.

The act represents a significant step forward for the Food and Drug Administration because it means the agency will receive the funding needed to improve operations as well as to assure focus on critical issues related to public health, inspection and traceability. Most food and beverage manufacturers have supported this legislation even though many will be challenged by its mandates.

As meat and poultry processors well know from experience with the 1996 Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point/Pathogen Reduction Act, conducting a hazard analysis and establishing preventative controls in a regulatory environment are easier said than done. What regulators may consider an appropriate plan of action and what a company may consider effective are often points of conflict.

As has been addressed several times by this page during the past year, traceability and the development of a consistent trace-forward and trace-back system throughout the supply chain will cause problems for many companies. Efforts to establish consistent standards will be a key agenda item during 2010. Fortunately, the act does not require companies to adopt specific types of technologies for different traceability efforts.

Issued every five years, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans are jointly issued by the F.D.A. and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and represent the federal government’s view of how good dietary habits promote health and

reduce the risk of major chronic diseases. In the wake of the introduction of the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, obesity and health and wellness topics related to fiber, sodium and increased use of functional ingredients have become more prominent.

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans may address sodium intake, solid fats, alcohol and added sugars. The Guidelines also may touch on topics like fiber by delving more deeply into the different types of fibers and appropriate intake levels.

For consumers, the Guidelines provide advice for improving their health through both diet and exercise. For food and beverage industry product developers, the Guidelines offer a roadmap for many future endeavors. The issuance of the 2005 Guidelines combined with the emergence of the Atkins Diet Weight Loss Program, for example, pushed whole grains to the forefront of the public’s attention and led to expanded activity in new product development.

The 2005 Guidelines also encouraged consumers to focus on consuming nutrient-dense foods rather than calorie-dense foods. Given the prominence the obesity problem has gained since the 2005 Dietary Guidelines were issued, it also may be expected that the 2010 Guidelines will re-emphasize better management of weight by paying closer attention to the volume and types of calories consumed.

If the federal government follows the same calendar as it used in 2005, the 2010 Dietary Guidelines will be proposed for comment sometime this month and completed in October or November. In the meantime food and beverage companies will have an opportunity to comment on the proposals and to prepare for likely impacts on eating patterns as well as perceptions about food products that are considered healthy and products that are considered less healthy.

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