The Oregon Public Health Division’s (OPHD) Foodborne Illness Prevention Program announced that it is moving forward with the adoption of the 2009 Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Food Code. The new rules will take effect on September 4, 2012. Oddly, however, the agency noted that it would not be adopting the “No Bare Hand Contact” section of the Food Code.
In creating the “No Bare Hand Contact” rule for food handlers, the FDA pointed out that when hands are heavily contaminated, even effective handwashing practices may not be enough to prevent the transmission of pathogens from the hands to ready-to-eat (RTE) foods, such as sandwiches, salads, and other foods that are eaten without further washing or cooking. Accordingly, the rule requires the use of “suitable utensils such as scoops, spoons, forks, spatulas, tongs, deli tissue, single-use gloves, or dispensing equipment” when handling RTE food items to reduce foodborne illness.
Discussion of implementing the “No Bare Hand Contact” rule in Oregon was met with fierce opposition by restaurateurs who raised concerns over the cost of complying with the rule and whether it would actually increase food safety. In response, OPHD explained that over the next few months it will assemble a workgroup of interested parties (restaurateurs, government inspectors, consumers, etc.) to review and provide recommendations on addressing norovirus and fecal contamination of food, and to identify the best options to reduce illness.
Oregon’s process of adopting the 2009 FDA Food Code began in August 2010 when a Food Code Review Workgroup was established to work with the Oregon Department of Agriculture, food service and retail industry groups and regulators to develop recommendations regarding the new rules. Earlier this year, OPHD also provided training for regulators and industry on the 2009 Food Code in preparation for the September effective date.
The Association of Food and Drug Officials (AFDO), under contract to the FDA, has been gathering data on the progress of FDA Food Code adoptions by States, Territories, Local and Tribal Nation agencies. AFDO reported that 49 of the 50 States adopted codes patterned after the 1993, 1995, 1997, 1999, 2001, 2005, or 2009 versions of the Food Code, representing 96% of the U.S. population. Specifically:
- Four States adopted the 1993, 1995 or 1997 Food Code, representing 4% of the US population.
- Ten States adopted the 1999 Food Code, representing 13%of the US population.
- Eleven States adopted the 2001 Food Code, representing 38% of the US population.
- Twenty one States adopted the 2005 Food Code, representing 39%of the US population.
- Three States adopted the 2009 Food Code, representing2% of the US population.
In September, Oregon will join Mississippi, New Hampshire, and Delaware in adopting the 2009 version of the food code. Until the final rules take effect, food industry members can review the Fact Sheets provided by OPHD to ensure compliance and see what other changes may affect their business in the coming weeks.
Egg-associated illness caused by Salmonella has long been recognized as a serious public health problem. Specifically, Salmonella Enteritidis, a bacterium commonly found inside shell eggs that appear normal, continues to be one of the leading bacterial causes of foodborne illness in the United States. These eggs primarily become contaminated on the farm because of infection in the laying hens.
During the 1990s, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. Department of Agriculture implemented a series of post-egg production safety efforts such as refrigeration requirements designed to inhibit the growth of bacteria that may be in an egg. Those efforts, as well as egg quality assurance programs (EQAPs) and consumer and retailer education, contributed to a decrease in Salmonella Enteritidis illness during the mid-1990s. However, while these steps limited the growth of bacteria, they did not prevent the initial contamination from occurring. FDA and USDA officials became aware that further reductions in Salmonella Enteritidis illness could not be accomplished without additional federal measures addressing the contamination of shell eggs.
Just over three years ago, in July 2009, the FDA, in collaboration with the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), announced a new food safety regulation that it expected would prevent approximately 79,000 cases of foodborne illness and 30 deaths caused by consumption of eggs contaminated with the bacterium Salmonella Enteritidis each year.
In July 2010, the rule become effective for egg producers having 50,000 or more laying hens. Most recently, as of this past Monday, July 9, 2012, egg producers with fewer than 50,000 but at least 3,000 laying hens whose shell eggs are not processed with a treatment, such as pasteurization, are required to comply with the egg safety regulation as well.
Some of the highlights under the rule include that egg producers whose shell eggs are not processed with a treatment, such as pasteurization must:
- Buy chicks and young hens only from suppliers who monitor for Salmonella bacteria
- Establish rodent, pest control, and biosecurity measures to prevent spread of bacteria throughout the farm by people and equipment
- Conduct testing in the poultry house for Salmonella Enteritidis. If the tests find the bacterium, a representative sample of the eggs must be tested over an eight-week time period (four tests at two-week intervals); if any of the four egg tests is positive, the producer must further process the eggs to destroy the bacteria, or divert the eggs to a non-food use
- Clean and disinfect poultry houses that have tested positive for Salmonella Enteritidis
- Refrigerate eggs at 45 degrees F during storage and transportation no later than 36 hours after the eggs are laid (this requirement also applies to egg producers whose eggs receive a treatment, such as pasteurization).
To ensure compliance, egg producers must also maintain a written Salmonella Enteritidis prevention plan along with records documenting their compliance. Egg producers covered by this rule must also register with the FDA. The FDA will develop guidance and enforcement plans to help egg producers comply with the rule and will also begin inspecting medium-sized facilities with fewer than 50,000 but at least 3,000 laying hens in the final quarter of this year.
We’re in the “crystal-ball” season—time to look forward and assess what’s coming in 2010 and beyond. The most likely scenario: more of the same and landmark change.
More of the Same
The last few years have seen growth in both the number of food-borne illnesses detected and the variety of foods affected. This is because more resources are being put into detection (though the CDC recently reported an overall decline in epidemiological capacity by the states) and technology is continuing to advance (think Next Generation Sequencing). There’s little reason to believe these trends will abate in 2010. Expect more outbreaks. Expect to hear about recalls of products not previously implicated in food-borne illness.
Nobody doubts that we’re in the midst of the most significant legislative and regulatory changes in food safety in generations. Most believe that Congress will pass some form of food safety legislation (e.g., S 510 or HR 2749) in the new year. It will likely include the most comprehensive food safety reform in decades. Among other things, this legislation is likely to give FDA mandatory recall power and great authority for risk-based inspections, and require FDA to create a traceability program.
FDA and USDA are already pushing the boundaries of their current authority to become more aggressive on food safety and labeling enforcement. Examples include USDA moving toward classification of Salmonella as an adulterant, more aggressive rules on ground beef safety, and increased retail enforcement. FDA is already studying how traceability could work, being more aggressive in identifying products and retailers in the event of recalls, reexamining the effectiveness of current nutritional labeling requirements, and investigating whether front of pack nutrition labeling (FOP) practices need to be regulated.
And on the heels of legislative reform and increased regulatory enforcement come the lawyers. Action by the government creates new avenues for the plaintiffs’ bar. Food litigation will likely increase in prevalence both in product liability claims (i.e., food contamination) and in putative consumer fraud class claims into 2010 and beyond.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service has announced the 2010 Food Safety Education Conference. The conference will be held in Atlanta from March 23 through 26, 2010. Although the agenda is still a work in progress, you can expect sessions on foodborne illnesses, outreach to the medical community, food safety education initiatives, social marketing, and emerging industry trends and technologies.
The conference is accepting abstracts on food safety-related topics through August 16, 2009. More information on the conference and the abstract submission process is available through the links on the widget below.