WASHINGTON (September 14, 2011)—The FDA has announced the start of two pilot programs to will help develop new tracking systems that will allow investigators to identify sources of foodborne disease outbreaks more quickly than is now possible.
One of the programs focuses on processed foods, while the other targets raw fruits and vegetables. They mainly emphasize more detailed recordkeeping in the food production and distribution industries.
The goal is that, when consumers fall ill after eating a particular food product, records will clearly show where that product and its ingredients originated, as well as every location they passed through in the distribution chain. Contaminated foods may then be quarantined and the source cleaned up or shut down.
Currently, it can take weeks for investigators to figure out where, say, a Salmonella-contaminated hot pepper found in a restaurant kitchen came from.
"We can prevent illnesses and reduce the economic impact to the food industry if we can more quickly determine what foods may be causing an outbreak and what foods can be eliminated from consideration," Michael R. Taylor, the FDA's deputy commissioner for foods, said in a statement announcing the pilot projects.
Under the federal Food Safety and Modernization Act, signed into law earlier this year, the FDA is required to conduct the projects as part of its new mandates and powers to reduce foodborne disease outbreaks. The legislation also told the FDA to develop recordkeeping standards for high-risk foods to aid in tracing efforts.
The pilot program for processed foods will examine production and distribution for a particular product—as yet unnamed—and a few key ingredients, the FDA said.
Selected produce items will be examined similarly in the other project.
In both, project staff will conduct "mock tracebacks" to determine how quickly and accurately common sources in the supply chain can be identified.
The new projects will be conducted by the Institute of Food Technologists, a nonprofit professional society working under contract with the FDA.
When the results are in, the FDA will undertake formal rulemaking for the procedures food producers and distributors must follow for labeling and recordkeeping.
The agency did not indicate when it expected to complete the process.