Sunday, March 15, 2009

Food Safety: A Team Approach

Food Safety: A Team Approach

The United States maintains one of the world's safest food supplies, thanks in large part to an interlocking monitoring system that watches over food production and distribution at every level-locally, statewide and nationally.

Continual monitoring is provided by food inspectors, microbiologists, epidemiologists, and other food scientists working for city and county health departments, state public health agencies, and various federal departments and agencies. Their precise duties are dictated by local, state and national laws, guidelines and other directives. Some monitor only one kind of food, such as milk or seafood. Others work strictly within a specified geographic area. Others are responsible for only one type of food establishment, such as restaurants or meat-packing plants. Together they make up the U.S. food safety team.

The Clinton administration's Food Safety Initiative, begun in 1997, strengthens the efforts of all the members of the nation's food safety team in the fight against food-borne illness, which afflicts between 6.5 million and 33 million Americans every year. One of the initiative's major programs got under way in May 1998 when the Department of Health and Human Services (which includes FDA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Environmental Protection Agency signed a memorandum of understanding to create a Food Outbreak Response Coordinating Group, or FORC-G. The new group will:
increase coordination and communication among federal, state and local food safety agencies
guide efficient use of resources and expertise during an outbreak
prepare for new and emerging threats to the U.S. food supply.
Besides federal officials, members of FORC-G include the Association of Food and Drug Officials, National Association of City and County Health Officials, Association of State and Territorial Public Health Laboratory Directors, Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists, and National Association of State Departments of Agriculture.

The following table offers a closer look at the nation's food safety lineup. The agencies listed in the table also work with other government agencies, such as the Consumer Product Safety Commission to enforce the Poison Prevention Packaging Act, the FBI to enforce the Federal Anti-Tampering Act, the Department of Transportation to enforce the Sanitary Food Transportation Act, and the U.S. Postal Service to enforce laws against mail fraud.

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