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Top food safety administrators in U.S. say it’s not rocket science, but it is science


PITTSBURGH, PA — Technology, pathogens and diligence were the watchwords from two leaders from the USDA and FDA as they addressed attendees at the International Association of Food Protection’s 2022 meeting and conference.

Frank Yiannas, deputy commissioner for food policy and response at the Food and Drug Administration, was center stage Monday with Sandra Eskin, deputy undersecretary for food safety at USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, during the conference’s annual regulatory update.

Both administrators touched on how important technology is in the business of keeping food safe for the public. They both said they operate within public safety agencies where programs don’t always get the best technology as fast as private industry does.

However, smart use of the technology they do have access to is the key difference between status quo food safety programs and robust ones.

Eskin discussed the FSIS announcement that all Salmonella is going to be declared an adulterant for breaded and stuffed chicken products, marking the first time the agency has ruled any Salmonella on any chicken is an adulterant. She said the FSIS is devoting dozens and dozens and dozens of staff and top notch technology to hone in on how to make the declaration work for government and industry and, ultimately, the consumer.

Yiannas said he imagines technology getting us to the point where food moves at the “speed of thought” a time when a commodity thought to be involved in an outbreak can be traced back to its source in a matter of seconds instead of days or weeks as it takes now. He said one factor complicating such technology is what he called the endless grocery shelf with a supply chain that reaches around the world.

Yiannas asked a question of himself and Eskin, and they both shook their heads in frustrated negative answers: Are we winning the battle against foodborne disease?

Eskin said she thought the move to classify Salmonella as an adulterant on some chicken products is a step in the right direction toward answering yes to that question. Yiannas said he thought the FDA’s traceability rule, due in November, will be another crucial step toward the right answer.

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