USE OF THE REGULATORY PROCESS TO PREVENT AND MITIGATE POTENTIAL FOODBORNE DISEASE
The goal of the regulatory agencies is fourfold:
1. Preventing harm to consumers
2. Providing effective food protection inspections and enforcement which depends upon good data and analysis
3. Identifying outbreaks of foodborne illness quickly and stopping them
4. Creating a transparent system and advising the public on the results of food establishment inspections and surveys
However, the goal is only partially being met, because the regulatory system in the United States varies from community to community and is haphazard, repetitive, lacking in appropriate current laws, or enforcement of them, and lacking sufficient trained personnel, financial support, and other resources for inspections, investigations, controls, and appropriate legal actions, including mandatory recalls. Several major federal agencies and numerous state and local agencies are involved in overlapping and underfunded food safety control. A multitude of inspection forms is utilized and therefore data collection and analysis is problematic. As with the interface between any number of governmental bureaucratic institutions, turf battles exist and need to be addressed.
Currently, the federal government has greater responsibility for imported foods, food production, food processing, and interstate food transportation, while state governments are responsible for food processing, intrastate transportation, and some retail food. Some state health departments and/or agricultural departments are charged with the oversight of local food protection programs while others are not, thus leading to inconsistencies in food protection from one location to another.
Local government, although it may be involved in production and processing programs, essentially works with the retail food industry. All agencies have some enforcement power with the weakest being at the federal government level and the strongest at the local government level. All agencies are involved in foodborne disease outbreaks, with the federal government having the greatest expertise and resources (but even these resources are far too few to carry out the type of programs that are necessary to keep the food protection system from being, in fact, a food contamination system), followed by the state government and finally the local government with the least physical resources, including epidemiological support, and funding.
The federal government is responsible for setting up the recommended standards for food protection through its model, the current edition of the FDA Food Code, which is based on sound scientific, technical, and legal determinations to regulate restaurants, grocery stores, institutions, etc. Most of the states and territories, and therefore local entities, utilize some form of the Food Code. However, this still means that there are at least 50 food safety systems in the United States instead of one. In total, the lack of good communications despite the efforts of the CDC and other groups, the varying abilities of the individuals conducting the food protection programs, and the lack of funding from federal sources especially to local programs, has created a severe national health and safety problem.
Best Practices in Regulatory Process (See endnotes 53, 54, 55)
• Establish uniform standards for all localities at all levels by adopting immediately the latest version of the FDA Food Code, put them immediately into operational form, and make revisions in the uniform standards as new versions of the code are produced and put into operation.
• Develop immediately a system-wide regulatory food safety reform program in the areas of surveillance, foodborne outbreak response, inspection, regulations, and program enhancing.
• Enhance legal authority for all entities by modeling this authority on the Voluntary National Retail Food Regulatory Program Standards which requires that critical violations which may cause foodborne illness be corrected in a timely manner.
• Improve communication and coordination between all entities to promote a rapid response to foodborne illness outbreaks and food recalls.
• Improve the sharing of information between all entities in order to prevent, mitigate, or control an outbreak of foodborne disease rapidly.
• Use a standardized national model for all entities in identifying, reporting, and tracing back foodborne illness cases to the source food.
• Reduce the number of pathogens in raw and processed foods.
• Provide appropriate budgetary support at all levels, especially the local and state level, where a very large proportion of the actual work is carried out.
• Determine the competencies needed by all levels of governmental program employees and prepare effective continuing education programs as well as certification programs to bring individuals up to appropriate levels of competency.
• Provide adequate numbers of appropriately trained individuals to carry out all food protection activities in an efficient and timely manner.
• Provide food protection professionals with proper and up-to-date equipment including accurate thermocouples, test kits, pH meters, light meters, cameras, etc.
• Provide computers and appropriate software to quickly record necessary findings and allow them to be printed out immediately for the use of managers in various food service organizations.
• Model local food safety programs after those which have been highly successful, for example, recent recipients of the Samuel J. Crumbine Award, such as the City of Columbus, Ohio; Sacramento County, California; Multnomah County, Oregon; Lincoln-Hamilton County, Nebraska; Hamilton County, Ohio; City of Toronto, Ontario, Canada; and Salt Lake Valley, Utah. Modifications can be made to meet local and regional practices and sensibilities. (For the requirements for the award, see endnote 58.)
• Develop an integrated national food protection system which will act as a full partnership between federal, state, local agencies, and industry, with financial support from the federal government along with the current financial support from local government. A properly operating, financially secure, food safety system is an integral part of a healthy economy and the homeland security of the United States of America.
• Provide well-equipped rapid response epidemiological support to help resolve outbreaks of foodborne and waterborne disease.
• Provide well-equipped rapid response laboratory support to help resolve outbreaks of foodborne and waterborne disease.