Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Produce traceback - Is PTI good enough for reformers?

Doug Powell of the Food Safety Network finds this gem from the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy in Minnesota. This well written piece by Maryn McKenna explores what's ahead for the new Administration, beyond the not insignificant task of fixing the economy.

But simmering in the background is a substantial grassroots movement that is pressing the new administration to enact change within the government as well, at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). And a key part of any reform may involve correcting the deficiencies in what is now a complex and fragmented system for tracing contaminated produce items to their source.

TK: the story goes on to examine the Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak, the "one step up and one step back" already in place and the Produce Traceability Initiative. Here is what the report said about PTI:

The initiative, which is voluntary and would roll out between 2009 and 2012, gives reformers some of what they seek: It establishes a universal code that follows produce wherever it goes in the system. But it labels produce only by case, not by individual item. And it does not establish a single database than can be queried in a single step in seconds. The produce industry resisted appeals for that, fearing it would place too great a financial burden on smaller producers. The industry chose instead to have the information on each step of a case's progress reside in the computers of the various businesses it moved through.

That may not be enough to bring produce traceability and food safety in line with a reform agenda. Several recent analyses of what needs to change at FDA insist that guaranteed rapid access to provenance information is the key piece needed to make trace-back work. In September, the GAO recommended that FDA be allowed to access information more directly in emergencies, both to identify suspect foods and to ascertain whether other foods processed in the same facility also pose a threat.

And last May, the Food Safety Research Consortium, a group of researchers from seven institutions who are funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, called for a fully accessible "network of networks" across the food safety system. "There is no effective system for ensuring rapid government access to critical trace-back information," Michael Taylor, a research professor of health policy at George Washington University and the project's leader, testified in July.

TK: The story concludes with the thought that food safety reform may have to wait in line behind a host of economic issues that Obama must address. But that won't diminish the need, experts say, for a sleeker food safety system that can deal with multi-state foodborne illness outbreaks.

1 comment:

DavidLDurkin said...

The full text of the article has been taken down from the CIDRAP website.