- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 31, 2009

At a time of perceived gaps in food-safety regulation, the industry needs to “go back to basics” now more than ever. We all have seen the stories stemming from the discovery of salmonella in peanut butter products, and no one condones the purported actions of one bad actor. Still, we agree with President Obama that there are processes that can help the vast majority of food producers that follow the rules ensure a safer food supply.

One such area in need of modernization is the Current Good Manufacturing Practice regulations (CGMPs), which were last updated in 1986. These regulations form the basis for food-safety-assurance programs in manufacturing facilities. Companies are expected to comply with these requirements in designing and implementing their food-safety systems.

The Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) formed a working group in 2002 whose objective was to review whether the regulations needed modernization. Unfortunately, that process has stagnated.

At one time, there was progress in updating these practices. In 2004, when the FDA opened the process for input on the regulations for manufacturing, packing or storing food, the American Frozen Food Institute (AFFI) voiced our suggestions in support of FDA’s efforts to update and revise the food practices. The AFFI also led the coalition in cooperation with more than 60 food-industry trade associations and food companies to respond to and work with FDA as it moved toward modernizing current practices.

This was seen as so important that the FDA commissioner at the time referred to revising the manufacturing regulations as his “enduring legacy.” In fact, the FDA commissioner noted in a speech that 85 percent of food recalls in a relevant study likely occurred because CGMP-related shortcomings.

Progress continued as the center’s group reported in 2005 that changes in both the food industry and the science of food safety showed a need for modernization. The FDA identified seven areas to modernize the current regulations. The AFFI-led coalition was among many other groups and companies that submitted comments to the FDA that applauded the agency’s commitment to advancing food-regulation modernization as the foundation for producing safe food. The comment period closed in 2006, and the matter inexplicably has remained dormant ever since.

Bad actors aside, most food companies continue to enhance their food-safety systems irrespective of government regulation. Yet the CGMPs are still an important aspect of the nation’s food-safety system, and their modernization is long overdue.

In announcing his selection of Dr. Margaret Hamburg as FDA commissioner, President Obama indicated his intention to form a Food Safety Working Group to “upgrade our food safety laws for the 21st century.” We would strongly encourage the working group to focus first on completion of the much-needed task of reviewing and modernizing CGMPs.

Updating the regulations would strengthen the building blocks of safe food production. The clock is ticking, and the time is now to update the foundation of FDA’s regulatory structure.

Kraig R. Naasz is president and chief executive officer of the American Frozen Food Institute (AFFI). As the voice of the U.S. frozen food industry, AFFI represents more than 500 member companies and about 90 percent of the frozen food processed annually in the United States.

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