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New Food Safety Czar at FDA Has A Lot of Work To Do

, January 14, 2010

Last week, a former lawyer for both the agribusiness industry and the FDA, Michael Taylor, was named deputy commissioner for foods for the FDA. Taylor will be responsible for putting new laws into action aimed at preventing food-borne illness before it occurs, as the FDA has long been criticized for being solely a reactive agency when it comes to food safety.

Taylor's work experience has come under scrutiny. As an agribusiness lawyer, he represented companies that pioneered bovine growth hormone (BGH). After that time, during a stint working at the FDA, he was partially responsible for a controversial policy that allowed milk from BGH-treated cows to go unlabeled as such.

Taylor’s plate is quite full – as multiple pressing issues face the food safety. Here are only some of the stories that have come out over the past three months about food safety:

  • This article explains how after long being criticized about being too slow to disclose drug safety issues, the FDA is launching a new website to explain its operations to the public
  • This NYTimes masthead editorial argues that after the NYTimes investigation of the safety of ammoniated beef, officials at the Department of Agriculture and the National School Lunch Program need to communicate more effectively and look for quality over price.
  • This article explains that while Chinese authorities announced last week the closing of a dairy company that was producing products tainted with melamine, investigations into the dairy began nearly a year ago.
  • This article explains that nearly 800 restaurants at 10 airports have had hundreds of food safety violations over the past year, including “items such as tuna salad and turkey sandwiches stored at dangerously warm temperatures, raw meat contaminating ready-to-eat foods, rat droppings and kitchens lacking soap for workers to wash hands.” 77% of 35 restaurants reviewed at Reagan National Airport in Washington, DC had at least one serious violation last year.
  • This article examines the fact that more than 8,500 schools in America failed to have their kitchens inspected at all last year, and another 18,000 fell short of a requirement in the Child Nutrition Act that calls for cafeteria inspections at least biannually. This is despite the fact that many food safety threats have been shown to begin in the kitchen.
  • In this masthead editorial, the Los Angeles Times discusses the overwhelming need for an overhaul of the US food safety system, soon. The Senate’s dedication to health care reform has kept it from considering the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act.
  • This article examines the two-day meeting the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (the two bodies that share responsibility over the food supply) to discuss how to increase the speed and accuracy of investigations into food-borne illness and recalls.
  • This article examines an investigation that discovered that much of the beef and poultry provided by the national government to schools would not meet the standards for use at fast-food chains. In many cases, the school lunch meat is not tested as often for food-borne pathogens as is fast-food meat and poultry, and the United States Department of Agriculture, which oversees the program, has much less stringent limits on the amount of bacteria that is allowed to be present in meat than do many fast-food restaurants.
  • In this op/ed, the author argues that an increasingly centralized food production process has led to an increase in food-borne illness.
  • This article examines a beef company's recall of thousands of pounds of ground beef contaminated with a drug-resistant strain of salmonella. It is the company’s second major ground beef recall this year.  The company is a major contributor to the national school lunch program, although it has not contributed to the program since July.
  • This article examines the introduced the Processed Food Safety Act, introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), which would prohibit the sale of any processed poultry or meat that has not either undergone a food-borne pathogen reduction treatment, or been certified to contain no traces of pathogens.
  • In this article, the Food and Drug Administration cited a Tyson seafood plant for “serious” food safety violations yesterday. The plant produces seafood soup and sauces. Tyson is claiming that the problem was paperwork related, and did not actually involve threats to food safety.
  • This article examines a study in which a consumers group said that two-thirds of the almost 400 broiler chickens they purchased were infected with one or both of the top two bacteria that cause food-borne illness.
  • This article talks about a facility in New York that recalled more than 500,000 pounds of ground beef last month after it was linked to an outbreak of food-borne illness that killed two people and sickened 500 more. However, it has come to light that the company stopped testing its beef for pathogens years ago under pressure from suppliers.
  • This article details a new report that examines the long-term damage, including kidney failure, paralysis, seizures, hearing or visual impairments and mental retardation, that can be done to the body by the five most common food-borne illnesses.
  • This article examines a report by the United Nations that states that climate change will have a widespread effect on food safety. Increases in temperature, for example, will increase the prevalence and virulence of common food borne illnesses like salmonella and E. coli.
  • This article examines reports that the FDA plans to ban the sale of oysters harvested from the Gulf Coast during warm water months. The warm-water oysters account for nearly all deaths caused by eating raw oysters. The FDA said that processes such as pasteurizing or freezing the oysters make them safer.
  • This masthead editorial argues for a review of the entire United States school lunch program to ensure that children are being adequately protected from food-borne illness.
  • This article examines how victims and relatives of those sickened by salmonella nearly a year ago are upset that the corporation involved, the Peanut Company of America, is not yet facing charges for the outbreak, which sickened hundreds of people and killed nine. Analysts believed that while often food companies and executives do not face criminal liability after an outbreak, the actions of the Peanut Company of America were egregious enough to warrant criminal charges.
  • This article examines how the Centers for Disease Control said that common strain of E. coli bacteria was involved in 2 deaths from E. coli contamination in beef, as well as 28 cases and 16 hospitalizations.
  • This article examines how a consumer advocacy group's analysis of some canned foods found the chemical additive bisphenol A, or BPA, including in some goods that were labeled "BPA free." The group claimed that children eating multiple servings of some of the food could intake levels of BPA close to those that have caused adverse effects in several animal studies.
  • This article examines the effect of secondary infections, which are not uncommon, and occur when children pass a food-borne illness on to another child. In the specific case, a child was sickened from contact with another child who had eaten undercooked taco meet at an elementary school.
  • This article examines why school lunch beef was not included in a recall of beef that was tainted with salmonella.
  • This article examines how Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has promised better food safety alerts to schools, following a USA Today investigation of how school lunch beef was not included in a recall.
  • This article examines how after a study linking a tortilla company with food-borne illness at more than a dozen schools, the FDA issued a warning about their tortillas being a possible food safety threat, but never shared the warning with any school officials anywhere.