(cross-posted from FDA Voice blog)
Last week, we kicked off a series of public meetings—with about 400 people participating—to stimulate dialogue and gain input on FDA’s first two proposed rules to implement the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act. In her opening remarks, Dr. Hamburg noted how her appointment as FDA Commissioner by President Obama, coming on the heels of the illnesses and deaths attributed to contaminated peanut products, helped make food safety a high priority for her and the Administration.
It was fitting that we held our first meeting in a USDA auditorium in Washington, D.C., because we have worked closely with USDA and with other government partners at the state and local level, as well as with industry and consumer groups, to get the rules right. That means holding a lot of meetings to explain the proposed rules, visiting farms and facilities, and opening dockets for comments from interested parties, to receive as much input from the public as possible before we finalize the rules.
The diversity of those who signed up to make public comments at the meeting shows how important food safety is to all of us, from victims of foodborne illness to farmers and food manufacturers. First up was 15-year-old Dana Dziadul, who was three years old when she became ill from Salmonella in cantaloupe. The compelling stories from Dana and other victims of foodborne illness, and their families, remind us all that first and foremost, we have a public health obligation to address the harsh reality that each year, 3,000 people die and more than 100,000 are hospitalized because of foodborne illness. Our first obligation is to do everything we can to reduce these numbers.
We also know that improving food safety helps avoid the disruptions in the marketplace that result from illness outbreaks and recalls of food and maintain consumer confidence in healthful foods, such as the produce that the proposed rules cover. This convergence of interests has made our current food safety initiatives a real community effort, with industry, consumers and government coming together around the common goal of modernizing our food safety system to better prevent problems. We all have a responsibility, and we all have a role, in making and keeping food safe.
The work ahead may sound simple—having the right standards in place that are based on the best information we have on how to prevent hazards, and making sure these standards are met. But we have much yet to accomplish. We have to make sure the standards are flexible enough to address the diversity of operations across the country—from small farms to large facilities, from Maine to California. We also need to be sure FDA is ready to operate under this new, prevention-oriented framework, which will require employee training and ensuring our resources are focused on the greatest risks. And we are committed to providing technical assistance so that industry, especially small operations, can meet the new requirements when they are finalized.
These two proposed rules we have announced are very important, but we have three additional rules coming to further form our food safety framework. To address the safety of imports, we will soon be proposing a rule that requires that importers based in the United States verify that their overseas supplies are following prevention-based standards that provide the same level of public health protection as those that are in place here. Also addressing imports is a proposed rule on the accreditation of the third party auditors that industry uses to help them determine if food safety standards are being met. The third proposed rule coming addresses preventive controls for animal food, including pet food. Preventive controls are steps that firms must put in place to control hazards such as microbial contamination that could occur in a food facility.
We will be holding two more public meetings—one in Chicago and one in Portland, Oregon. You can find more information on our web site at fda.gov/fsma. Six meetings in various states across the country also are scheduled. Your comments are important to us, and I encourage you to submit comments at regulations.gov before the May 16th deadline.
The road ahead is a long one, and it will take years, and sustained commitment, to have our framework fully in place. But, for America’s families and our vibrant food system, the hard work is absolutely worth it!
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Imagine you go to your doctor’s office or an emergency room with more than just an upset stomach. Your doctor asks you questions, such as, “How long have you been sick?” and “Do you feel like you have a fever?” After more questions, and given your symptoms, your doctor considers that you might have a foodborne illness. Each year, foodborne illnesses, commonly known as food poisoning, affects about 1 in 6 (or 48 million) people in the United States. It can happen anywhere, to anyone, and from foods we might not expect.
Why Does Your Stool Sample Matter?
Your doctor may ask for a sample of “poop,” (or in doctor terms: your feces, or stool). But, only about one in five people already at their doctor’s office with diarrhea will give a stool sample. And, they are more likely to give one if the diarrhea is bloody or has lasted more than three days.
Testing the stool sample is important to track the “who, what, when, where, and why” of foodborne disease. Other people may also be ill with the same germ that you have, because they also ate the same tainted food. It is important that our public health system links people with similar laboratory results. These results can help you, your family, community, and even people in other states. When two or more people become sick from the same contaminated food or drink, the event is called a foodborne outbreak.
What Happens to your Stool Sample?
After you provide a stool sample, your doctor will test it for bacteria in a laboratory. Sometimes testing happens in your doctor’s office or in a commercial lab; or, if an outbreak is suspected, in a public health laboratory.
It can take up to three days to find out why you are sick and even longer for scientists to determine if your illness is part of an outbreak (see graphic).
Scientists in the lab, add your stool sample to a petri dish to start the testing. If bacteria grow--for instance, Salmonella (as shown in the petri dish below)--then the diagnosis is confirmed as positive, or in laboratory-terms, “culture confirmed.” Further lab testing can show which antibiotic medicines can kill it.
Additional testing at a public health lab, reveals the DNA “fingerprint”—the unique genetic code--of the bacteria. It is important for your doctor to know the specific details of the germ that made you sick.
These differences influence how your doctor treats your illness and how bad it might get-. These differences also provide essential information to scientists in public health laboratories. By tracking and finding similar DNA fingerprints of bacteria from sick people, “disease detectives”, or epidemiologists, can connect related-illnesses that could signal an outbreak.
Why is testing the stool sample and tracking foodborne illness important? The 1,000 or more reported outbreaks that happen each year reveal familiar culprits—like Salmonella and other common germs.
Other persons visiting the doctor may also feel sick from tainted food, making it important that our public health system reliably links people with similar lab results. Testing the stool sample is important for the patient, doctor, and public health officials to know if your sickness is connected to other illnesses. Tracking illnesses and investigating outbreaks helps to show how food can be made safer. Even though most people get better without visiting a doctor, CDC estimates that each year 48 million people get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases.
Testing, detection, and prevention matter. Do the stool sample. It could save your life; and, those of others.
* There are new tests that can be performed right in the doctor’s office, please check back for a later blog post on the pros and cons of these tests.
Ever check out the label on food packages when you’re at the store? Perhaps you do it because for you food safety means, at least in part, limiting calories or sodium or fat. Or maybe you do it because you want to make healthy food choices for your family. Whatever the reason, you are able to do it thanks to the Nutrition Facts label regulation of 1993.
For the last 20 years, the FDA rules for the Nutrition Facts label have made it easier for consumers to compare products and make better informed choices. And the number of consumers who say they utilize the labels continues to grow, with an increase from 44 to 54 percent between 2002 and 2008. If you’re one of them, here are a few tips to help you use the labels more effectively.
- Check the serving size and number of servings. All Nutrition Facts labels are based on one serving but many packages contain more. So, if you eat two servings, the calories, fat and nutrients are doubled.
- Calories count, so pay attention to the amount. Low-fat or fat-free doesn’t necessarily mean calorie-free.
- Know your fats and reduce sodium for your health. Foods low in saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol help reduce the risk of heart disease. Limiting sodium helps reduce the risk of high blood pressure.
- Learn which carbohydrates can be healthy. Healthy sources like fruit, vegetables, beans, and whole grains can reduce the risk of heart disease and improve digestive functioning. Not so healthy sources, like sugars, add calories but not health-promoting nutrients.
- Know your nutrients. Foods rich in nutrients like potassium, calcium, iron, and vitamins A and C help promote good health and may help protect against disease.
- Use the Percent Daily Values (%DV). The %DV at the bottom of the label helps achieve a balanced diet. The %DV is based on a 2000-calorie diet, so if you are especially active physically or your physical activity is limited you may need more or less.
For more information:
As always, If you have food safety questions, please feel free to contact us at the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline (1-888-674-6854 toll-free) or online at AskKaren.gov (English or Spanish)
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