Video Interview: Discussing the FDA's Potential Ban of Trans Fats

Following up on our recent post here on the FDA proposing that trans fats no longer be recognized as "generally accepted as safe" and the potential ensuing ban, I had the opportunity last week to speak with Colin O'Keefe of LXBN on the issue. In the brief interview, I share my thoughts on how the FDA arrived at this point and explain why I believe the industry is prepared for a move away from trans fats. 

FDA Makes Preliminary Determination That Trans Fats Are Not GRAS

Last week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced in a Federal Register notice that it has made a preliminary determination that partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), a major source of artificial trans fat in processed foods, are not generally recognized as safe (GRAS) for use in food. The November 7, 2013 notice includes the opening of a 60-day public comment period.

Under section 409 of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, any substance intentionally added to food is a food additive subject to premarket approval and review by FDA, with some exceptions. The exceptions include substances “generally recognized as safe,” or GRAS, because they are generally recognized by experts qualified by scientific training and experience to evaluate its safety, as having been adequately shown through scientific procedures (or, in the case of a substance used in food prior to January 1, 1958, through either scientific procedures or experience based on common use in food) to be safe under the conditions of its intended use. PHOs, which are the primary dietary source of industrially-produced trans fat have a history of use as food ingredients and have long been considered GRAS ingredients by the food industry.

However, according to the FDA, GRAS status of a specific use of a particular substance in food is time-dependent. In its Federal Register notice the agency points out that:

as new scientific data and information develop about a substance or the understanding of the consequences of consumption of a substance evolves, expert opinion regarding the safety of a substance for a particular use may change such that there is no longer a consensus that the specific use is safe. The fact that the status of a substance . . . may evolve over time is the underlying basis for FDA’s regulation at § 170.38, which provides in part that FDA may, on its own initiative, propose to determine that a substance is not GRAS.

. . .

Further, as stated previously, history of the safe use of a substance in food prior to 1958 is not sufficient to support continued GRAS status if new evidence demonstrates that there is no longer expert consensus that an ingredient is safe.

Essentially, this means that the FDA can take action when it believes an ingredient is, in fact, not GRAS. And that is exactly what is happening here.

For some, this announcement may not come as a surprise. More than a decade ago, in 1999, the FDA proposed that manufacturers be required to declare the amount of trans fat on Nutrition Facts labels because of public health concerns. The agency issued a final rule in July 2003  amending nutrition labeling regulations to require declaration of the trans fatty acid content of food in the nutrition label of conventional foods and dietary supplements (21 CFR 101.9(c)(2)(ii)). That requirement became effective in 2006. Since then, trends have shown that U.S. consumers are making a conscious decision to avoid foods with trans fat and companies are responding by reducing the amount of trans fat in their products.

So if the FDA’s preliminary determination is finalized and PHOs are deemed not GRAS, what will this mean for the food industry? If FDA makes a final determination that PHOs are not GRAS, PHOs would become food additives subject to premarket approval by FDA. Foods containing unapproved food additives are considered adulterated under U.S. law, meaning they cannot legally be sold. Accordingly, the agency and food industry would have to figure out a way to phase out the use of PHOs over time.

Interested persons may submit either electronic comments and scientific data and information to http://www.regulations.gov or written comments and scientific data and information to the Division of Dockets Management. Received comments may be seen in the Division of Dockets Management between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, and will be posted to the docket at http://www.regulations.gov.

FSIS Tells Ground Poultry Producers to Reassess Their Food Safety Plans

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) issued a press release on Wednesday, December 5, 2012, announcing that companies producing raw ground chicken and turkey and similar products will be required to reassess their sanitation procedures and pathogen control plans over the next few months. Specifically, over the next 90 days, producers of raw ground chicken and turkey must conduct a thorough examination of its current Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) to confirm its ability to identify hazards and better prevent foodborne illness. After the 90 day period, FSIS inspection program personnel will begin verifying that establishments that manufacture raw ground turkey or chicken products have indeed reassessed their HACCP plans.

FSIS will be documenting whether establishments made any changes to their HACCP plans in response to the required reassessment and will later evaluate those changes. Later, the agency intends to publish guidance materials for the industry on best practices to reduce Salmonella in ground and comminuted (further processed by mechanical separation or deboning and chopped, flaked, minced or broken down) poultry.

In making this announcement, officials at FSIS are hoping to lower the prevalence of Salmonella contamination within these types of products. This attention to the ground poultry product industry with a focus on Salmonella comes as a response to recent outbreaks that have sickened hundreds across the country in the past few years. Just in the last two years there have been two major Salmonella outbreaks associated with ground poultry products that affected consumers nationwide.

In conducting these reassessments, FSIS is advising companies to look at, among other things, the following:

[E]stablishments should evaluate the adequacy of their sanitation procedures for processing equipment, including grinders, blenders, pipes, and other components and surfaces in contact with the product. Thus, Sanitation SOPs, other prerequisite programs, or HACCP plans should address procedures that ensure that all slaughter and further processing equipment, employee hands, tools, and clothing, and food contact surfaces are maintained in a sanitary manner to minimize the potential for cross contamination within and among lots of production. In addition, FSIS expects establishments to ensure that slaughter and dressing procedures are designed to prevent contamination to the maximum extent possible. Such procedures should, at a minimum, be designed to limit the exterior contamination of birds before exsanguination, as well as minimize digestive tract content spillage during dressing process.

Other FSIS recommendations include validating cooking instructions, examining lotting practices that minimize contact between lots, and requiring suppliers to show that they have used a Salmonella intervention step.

In FSIS’s notice, the agency also announced that it will be expanding the Salmonella verification sampling program to include other raw comminuted poultry products, in addition to ground product; it will be increasing the sample size for laboratory analysis from 25 grams to 325 grams to provide consistency as the Agency moves toward analyzing samples for Salmonella and Campylobacter; and it will be conducting sampling to determine the prevalence of Salmonella in raw comminuted poultry products.

Although these new procedures are intended for producers of ground or comminuted chicken and turkey products, FSIS is recommending that manufacturers of comminuted products derived from cattle, hogs, and sheep or comminuted poultry products derived from poultry other than chicken or turkeys also consider assessing whether their food safety systems present food safety vulnerabilities.

FDA Seeks Input on Intentional Adulteration of Products

The Food and Drug Administration has announced an effort to explore the intentional adulteration of products to increase a producer’s bottom line. So-called “economically motivated adulteration,” or EMA, is the topic of an FDA-sponsored public meeting to be held on May 1 in College Park, Maryland.

The meeting follows last year’s concerns about products tainted with melamine and other incidents of concern to public health. For purposes of the meeting, the FDA proposes to define EMA as “the fraudulent, intentional substitution or addition of a substance in a product for the purpose of increasing the apparent value of the product or reducing the cost of its production, i.e., for economic gain.” The FDA hopes to raise awareness about EMA and receive input regarding how industry and regulators can predict, prevent, and address EMA.

Full details regarding the meeting can be found in the Federal Register.