Yiannas: FDA to delay water rule, would consider salmonella vaccination
The Food and Drug Administration will delay for two years the water quality standards rule for large produce enterprises under the Food Safety Modernization Act, a key FDA official said today.
FDA Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy & Response Frank Yiannas told reporters after a speech to the Consumer Federation of America Food Policy Conference that FDA will delay the rule because “the science” under which the original rule was developed was flawed.
Yiannas did not provide details, but said the agency would make an announcement soon. He said the agency wants to “accelerate” prevention of illness through water pollution.
In response to a question from the audience after his speech, Yiannas said that FDA would be “very, very open” to considering the vaccination of animals for salmonella as part of a food safety strategy, as some European countries have. Yiannas noted that vaccination had been part of a successful food safety strategy for poultry that he oversaw at Walmart, where he was global vice president for food safety before assuming his FDA position.
In his speech, Yiannas said the tools to address food safety problems have never been stronger, but that it is still necessary to find the food that has been contaminated.
“We have the ability to find the needle in the haystack but sometimes we can’t find the haystack,” Yiannas said, referring to the fact that sometimes people become ill but it is still difficult to find exactly what they ate that led to the illness.
In the romaine lettuce case last fall, Yiannas said, FDA went to multiple farms to try to find the source of the tainted food and finally concluded it was from one place in Santa Barbara, Calif.
The case showed that the pathogen came from a water reservoir and that pathogens can survive year after year in a reservoir.
Yiannas said that FDA is helping prepare produce farmers for on-farm inspections, and wants Americans to eat more produce even though there are certain products that are more prone to contamination. Yiannas said that he “always gets concerned” when his parents eat pre-cut produce.
FDA wants “parity” on food safety between domestic and imported food because “consumers don’t care where it comes from,” he said.
FDA also wants to help the development of the cell-cultured protein industry because the products are appealing to consumers who are motivated by animal welfare concerns and commercially can help achieve sustainability, Yiannas said.
On the agreement between FDA and the Agriculture Department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service under which FDA will be in charge of the growth of cell-based protein and FSIS will be in charge of the harvesting and labeling, Yiannas said that FDA “is committed to fostering innovation while assuring the safety of the nation’s food supply.”
Yiannas also displayed a graphic he said showed the future of “smarter food safety.” The graphic described this “new era” as:
▪ FSMA (Food Safety Modernization Act)-based
▪ Enhanced traceability
Smarter food safety signals more technology, Yiannas said, later explaining to reporters that he believes food will be “digitized” in the next few years, meaning products will be labeled and easily traceable in case there is a food safety problem.
Yiannas said he believes that the food industry is behind other industries in digitization because the industry has tight margins.
Noting that he spent 30 years in the private sector working for Walmart and earlier for Disney, Yiannas said that in both the public and private sectors, “We are all serving the same boss, the consumer.”
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