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Rapid Tracing of Food Products Prevents Illness

March 15, 2012 55 comments

Keeping our food safe is one of the missions of the FDA and the key goal of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act signed into law by President Obama in January 2011.  The new law includes a number of provisions that will help FDA – and the producers, growers, processors and distributors – keep the food you eat safe.

One important provision is designed to help us improve how we track food along the food chain.  Those of us who work on food issues have been exploring ways to improve what we call product tracing so we can prevent a large scale outbreak when there’s a report of a contaminated food.  For example, last year people reported they got sick after eating cantaloupes contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes, and FDA worked with industry to get the cantaloupe off the shelves.

When a foodborne outbreak occurs, it is up to us, the FDA, and others, such as our industry partners, other government regulators to make sure that contaminated food products are no longer available.  By quickly tracing the food product, we can help to minimize the risk to consumers.

FDA is working closely with the food industry, other government partners, and consumer groups, to develop a national food tracing system.  Since there is no standard system in place, we began a couple of pilot programs working with the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), a nonprofit, scientific society of professionals engaged in food science, food technology, and related professions, that has collected information and input from a variety of experts, including industry and consumer advocates.  Through these pilot projects, we are looking at practices, processes and types of technology that we might be able to use to help us better trace foods.  Nearly 1,000 individuals and organizations have been asked for their input and experiences to help us develop the pilot projects.  Ultimately, this will help us implement a strong product tracing system.

With that input and our own data, we selected the types of foods that we will be following as part of these pilot projects.  They are:

  • Tomatoes, grown in fields and greenhouses; whole and sliced; and distributed to restaurants and other institutions like hospitals, schools and nursing homes, and through grocery stores.  We are looking at tomatoes because they have been involved in a number of significant and repeat outbreaks.  Tomatoes represent a complex food supply chain and were identified by most industry associations as a top candidate for the produce related pilot;
  • Frozen Kung Pao-style dishes that contain peanut products, red pepper spice, and chicken were chosen because they contain multiple ingredients involved in significant outbreaks.  They also offer a variety of supply chain distribution channels, and, like tomatoes, can involve both domestic and imported products.
  • Jarred peanut butter and dry, packaged peanut/spice were added to the pilot projects to enhance the complexity of the pilots.

The results of the pilot projects will be completed this summer, and we expect to be able to use the information to help us develop a comprehensive product tracing system.  By being better prepared to successfully identify the source of outbreaks through more rapid traceback and traceforward investigations, FDA, working closely with the food industry, will be better positioned to prevent future outbreaks and illness.

For more information visit:

Updates on the pilot projects are also available at the IFT web site.

Sherri McGarry

Senior Advisor, Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation Network

Office of Foods, FDA

Bring FDA Tobacco Content to Your Website for Free

March 8, 2012 24 comments

As the Digital Communication and New Media Director at FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, I am thrilled to announce the launch of a new content syndication pilot project that provides free tobacco-related web content for use on other websites. This new service helps meet the growing demand for up-to-date, reliable public health web content by empowering FDA stakeholders to add value and depth to their sites by integrating the latest FDA tobacco content. Syndication also furthers FDA’s open government goals by enhancing public collaboration and participation with FDA content.

As a pilot project, we are unveiling this new service with more than 40 web pages of tobacco content available. Over the coming months we will work with stakeholders to make improvements, test functional capabilities and learn from their experiences. We will use these lessons, as well as data from surveys and metrics, to improve the service and inform possible expansion across other FDA health topics.

We’ve already learned a lot from the innovative work the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have done to advance this technology. Through their efforts they have improved the consistency of health information, reduced content sharing barriers and provided vital information more cheaply and easily. In the last several years, CDC led the use of this technology to foster collaboration and health information sharing, while providing metrics to highlight the success of their syndication efforts. HHS has worked tirelessly to facilitate information sharing within and across agencies, which gave us many insights into how this service is being used in the field.

I am excited to showcase our FDA content syndication services and hope that you will want to learn more about how the technology works, the benefits and how you can get started. For those of you wanting to try content syndication, simply sign up, choose the content you would like to syndicate and copy and paste our web code into your website. Our syndicated content is automatically updated ensuring you always have the latest, most accurate information. It really is that easy—and if you get tripped up, there are tools available to help guide you through the process.

I encourage you to check out our new content syndication hub and let us know what you think. Your feedback and comments will help us improve the site and learn about technical issues that need to be addressed. Please also let us know what FDA tobacco content you would like to syndicate by requesting new pages to be added to the syndication hub. Thank you so much for your time. I am eager to learn from this pilot project and watch our syndication efforts evolve.

Ann Aikin

Digital Communication and New Media Director,

FDA Center for Tobacco Products

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