WASHINGTON (FNS) -- The White House last week unveiled more details of a food-safety initiative that boosts funding for seafood inspections and renews the call for tighter safety precautions for fruit and vegetable juices.
These steps are part of a proposal first announced in January by President Clinton that is already under way and will be augmented next year with $43.2 million in additional funding.
The initiative is primarily focused on coordinating efforts among federal agencies with jurisdictions over food safety to ensure quick responses to food- borne illnesses. The agencies will also coordinate efforts to keep tabs on new and more virulent forms of bacteria.
"Microorganisms are adapting to the environment, becoming craftier," said Vice President Al Gore, in a news conference held to discuss the new food-safety plans.
Several proposals are already pending, such as how to prevent the illness-causing E. coli bacteria from contaminating unpasteurized fruit and vegetable juices or egg shells. The Food and Drug Administration held hearings last year to discuss how these juices could be regulated. Last year contaminated, unpasteurized juice caused an outbreak of illness and at least one death on the West Coast.
The agencies -- the FDA, Agriculture Department, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Environmental Protection Agency -- also plan to undertake a food-handling education program targeting workers in supermarkets and restaurants, as well as consumers. This initiative will be coordinated with retailers, meat processors and others in the food industry, who have already started work on a consumer-awareness campaign that focuses on such basics as washing hands before cooking. The Food Marketing Institute, American Meat Institute, the American Egg Board and Produce Marketing Association are among participating organizations.
Another area to be stressed is seafood, which is slated Dec. 18 to be inspected under an FDA-imposed Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points program. About $7.8 million is slated in 1998 to cover seafood HACCP implementation.
As part of this seafood initiative, 80 FDA seafood inspectors will be added to the roughly 400 that keep tabs on imported seafood, comprising about 50% of all seafood sold in the United States. Importers of seafood must also comply with the new HACCP regulation.
Richard Gutting Jr., vice president of government relations at the Arlington, Va.-based National Fisheries Institute, said in a statement, "The FDA should seriously consider strengthening its seafood inspection capability through partnerships with state officials who are conducting similar state programs."
The administration's pledge to increase funding for food safety research, inspection and education received kudos from the industry.