WASHINGTON -- The Food and Drug Administration here has opened a public hotline in order to provide consumers with up-to-date, factual information regarding food-safety issues.
Using a toll-free number (1-888-SAFEFOOD), consumers can retrieve information through the FDA's new Outreach and Information Center, which operates a digitally managed system of call handling and tracking.
"Information specialists" are on duty to handle calls between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. (EST), Monday through Friday. During non-business hours, consumers can access the more than 200 hours of newly recorded food information by entering their selections via the telephone keypad. According to an FDA official, a Spanish version of the hotline is presently under development.
The O&IC, a component of the FDA's Food Safety Initiative, provides information covering all food-safety issues, except for meat and poultry issues, which are handled through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's offices. But, for consumers wanting food-safety information regarding meat and poultry, the O&IC hotline includes an option that allows them to be connected to the USDA's hotline (1-800-535-4555).
The O&IC's hotline updates the previous food hotlines and cosmetic safety lines, 1-800-FDA-4010 and 1-800-270-8869, respectively. All incoming calls to the former lines are automatically punched through to the new safety line.
Through the hotline, the center also provides information from the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition regarding cosmetics, food additives and dietary supplements. The new system includes more than 100 CFSAN documents consumers can receive via fax or by accessing the FDA's Web site.
According to an FDA release, the newly expanded hours of operation will increase by 50% the coverage of incoming public questions answered by a CFSAN information specialist.
The announcement of the new hotline was made recently by Donna Shalala, secretary for health and human services, before attendees of the Alexandria, Va.-based United Fresh Fruit & Fruit and Vegetable Association's Public Policy Conference.