Archive for Wednesday, April 9, 2003

Cooking Q&A: Food industry working to strengthen safety

Consumers can help by notifying authorities of concerns, wisely handling food

April 9, 2003


In response to several questions that have been asked related to food safety and terrorism, I am sharing a list of frequently asked questions that the Food and Drug Administration has compiled. The USDA also has prepared information outlining simple, yet important steps, which can be taken to prevent or respond to a threat to our food supply. The information is available at and includes a number of useful tips. Additional information from the Department of Homeland Security can be found at

What is the Food and Drug Administration doing to protect the food supply against terrorism?

During the past few years, FDA has worked with food safety agencies at federal, state and local levels to significantly strengthen the nation's food safety system across the entire distribution chain -- from the farm to the table. The main results of this cooperation are more effective prevention programs, new surveillance systems and faster response capabilities.

In addition, since the 9-11 terrorist attack, FDA has increased its emergency response capability by realigning resources for possible use to counter terrorism, and by reassessing and strengthening its emergency response plans. The agency also continues to work closely with other federal, state and local food safety authorities and with regulatory agencies abroad to maximize coordination of efforts to protect food and to respond rapidly to evidence of threats to the food supply. All of these provisions and systems can be employed to prevent or respond to a terrorist assault on our food supply.

Does the FDA cooperate with other industries in the defense against food terrorism?

FDA is working with a broad spectrum of industries that has formed the Food Security Alliance, a group dedicated to strengthening the physical security of industrial food production. With help from the industry, FDA is developing a Food Security Guidance that food producers can use to improve the protection of their products against tampering or terrorist actions. The guide primarily will be focused on the management of food security as it applies to the plant, employees, raw materials, packaging and finished products.

Is anything being done to intensify the FDA surveillance of food imports and food production?

The Administration has asked Congress for increased FDA resources to build up its food surveillance of both domestic and imported foods through these major actions: it will hire 210 additional import inspectors to monitor food as it enters the United States; add 100 inspectors to survey points that are critical for product safety in the domestic food production and distribution system; and add 100 technical analysts to multiply the number of food samples tested for possible contamination.

In addition to a request for increased resources for surveillance, the Administration is seeking further authority to strengthen FDA's oversight of food in the case of an emergency. The increased authority will allow FDA to require information from food producers that will enable the agency to rapidly address possible health hazards by quickly tracing the source and distribution of both domestic and imported food.

What can consumers do to protect themselves and their families from food tampering or other kinds of food contamination?

Consumers are the final judges of the safety of the food they buy. The essential step for their protection is to check whether the food package or can is intact before opening it. If it has been damaged, dented or opened prior to purchase, the contents should not be used.

Consumers need to be alert also to abnormal odor, taste and appearance of a food item. If there is any doubt about its safety, don't eat it. If the food appears to have been tampered with, report it to the authorities.

What should consumers do if they suspect a food product has been contaminated or tampered with?

If the suspected food product does not contain meat or poultry -- such as seafood, produce or eggs -- consumers should notify the FDA 24-hour emergency number at (301) 443-1240 or call the consumer complaint coordinator in Kansas at (913) 752-2440. If the food product does contain meat or poultry, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at (800) 535-4555.

Should consumers take antibiotics for protection against contaminated food?

Antibiotics should not be taken preventively unless prescribed by a physician. Although antibiotics can be effective against some bacterial contaminants, they are not effective against viruses, chemicals or radiological substances.

What food handling practices should consumers follow on a day- to-day basis to help prevent foodborne illness?

Consumers can protect themselves by following basic safe food handling practices:

  • Wash all raw food products such as fruits and vegetables before eating them to help eliminate bacteria.
  • Wash hands, cutting boards, knives and utensils in hot, soapy water before and after handling each raw food item and before touching another food or a surface that will come into contact with food.
  • Refrigerate foods promptly. Cold temperatures keep most harmful bacteria from growing and multiplying.

If you have a concern that relates to bioterrorism, and you want an official state-level agency response, you should consider contacting the Kansas Division of Emergency Management for support. The division works directly with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. For more information, click on www.access, call (785) 274-1911 or e-mail .

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