Former heads of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) testified yesterday that more must be done to protect our nation’s food safety.  The statements came the same day the FDA announced that it had created a new position – termed the Food Safety Czar by members of Congress – to coordinate food safety efforts.  Bloomberg News covered the story for the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Regulators don’t have the money, equipment and staff to keep industrial chemicals, salmonella and E. coli from contaminating the American food supply, former commissioners of the Food and Drug Administration testified yesterday.

"Simply put, our food safety system is broken," said David Kessler, who was named to head the agency by President George H.W. Bush and served from 1990 to 1997.

"The reality is that there is currently no mandate, no leadership, no resources, nor scientific research base for prevention of food safety problems," Kessler told a hearing of the House Oversight Committee in Washington.

The hearings come on the heels of a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report in which the US food safety system was deemed high-risk and, on a smaller scale, a Massachusetts independent state auditor’s report on the Commonwealth of Massachusetts food protection program.  Concerns of the Massachusetts State Auditor’s report echo concerns previously pointed out about the nation’s food safety system.  Areas of concern listed in the Massachusetts Auditor’s report were:

  1. Resource constraints that impair the Department of Public Health’s (DPH) ability to oversee local health board food protection activities and DPH’s ability to conduct wholesale food inspections.
  2. Understaffing of local health authority food inspection activities.
  3. Inadequate local inspection frequency and rare use of appropriate risk-based scheduling systems.
  4. Inadequate training and qualifications of local inspectors.
  5. Inadequate documentation and standardization at local authorities.
  6. Deficiencies in foodborne illness and general complaint investigations and responses at local and state levels.
  7. Lack of proper information technology systems.
  8. Needed improvements to quality assurance systems to promote safe food practices.
  9. Inefficiencies and administrative problems resulting from decentralization of food protection activities.
  10. Lack of strategic long term planning by DPH for food protection efforts.

The full Commonwealth of Massachusetts State Auditor’s report is available at the Auditor’s Web site.