Food & Drinks

Letter to the Editor: A different view on new Salmonella rules

Opinion

Dear Editor,

This is in regard to the FSN publication Nov. 18, 2020: “Food and drug officials weigh in on federal Salmonella rules for poultry” by Steven Mandernach, AFDO. Here is my response that I submitted Nov. 20, 2020: 

It appears from the Editor’s note (on the Nov. 18 piece), that Mr. Steven Mandernach, the AFDO executive director, presented these comments on the AFDO’s salmonella position earlier this fall. (The author of this letter stated that Mandernach is an attorney.)

We are reminded that a “fact” is a statement that can be proven true or false. However, an “opinion” is an expression of a person’s feelings that cannot be proven. Thus, I want to take this opportunity to make a few fact-based observations that may result in a better understanding of so-called “Salmonella rules” and their effectiveness, if any. 

AFDO Statement: “Let me start by thanking Under Secretary Dr. Mindy Brashears and FSIS (USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service) for the opportunity to provide comment on this important topic.”

Fact #1: Under Secretary for the USDA Office of Food Safety Dr. Mindy Brashears is a political appointee under the current Trump Administration. Dr. Brashears has proven expertise and degrees in food technology and food microbiology. While she holds numerous animal feed-related patents in pathogen reduction in feeds, however, to my knowledge, she has little or no first-hand experience in FSIS field-related activities, laws, and regulations. Therefore, her comments on this topic may be limited in scope for the FSIS jurisdiction under the current laws (FMIA and PPIA). More about this later.

AFDO Statement: AFDO and its members were among the early advocates working with Dr. Wiley for the adoption of the nation’s first food safety laws including the Meat Inspection Act and Pure Food Acts in 1906.”

Fact #2: The history: In 1862, President Lincoln appointed a chemist, Charles M. Wetherill, to lead the USDA’s Division of Chemistry, which in 1901 became the Bureau of Chemistry. In 1883, Harvey Wiley, M.D., was appointed chief chemist at USDA. Dr. Wiley had devoted his career to raising public awareness of problems with adulterated food; developing standards for food processing and campaigning for the Pure Food and Drugs Act (PFDA). 

Both the Pure Food and Drug Act (PFDA) and the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA) became law on the same day in 1906 under USDA’s Bureau of Chemistry. Then in 1927, USDA’s Bureau of Chemistry, was reorganized and renamed the Food, Drug, and Insecticide Administration and then, in 1931, it was renamed the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

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In 1938, FDA updated PFDA and created the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) and again in 1958, in response to the public’s concern about invisible hazards from chemicals added directly or indirectly to foods, the FFDCA was amended with the Food Additive Amendment to ensure the safety of ingredients used in processed foods, including animal drug residues in meat and poultry products. 

It was not until 1940 that the FDA was moved from USDA to the Federal Security Agency, which in 1953 became the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare—now the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

After spending almost a decade in the drafting stage, the FDA created the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) that was signed into law by President Barack Obama on Jan. 4, 2011. The FSMA gave the FDA new authorities to regulate the way foods are grown, harvested and processed.

Unfortunately, since 1906 the FMIA has never been updated, although in 1957 Congress did pass the Poultry Products Inspection Act. 

Conclusion: While Dr. Wiley was instrumental in the PFDA, history does not give him any credence to being involved with FMIA. It therefore appears that AFDO had historical involvement with PFDA, FFDCA and probably FSMA and not FMIA or PPIA. Also, in examining the board membership of AFDO, the only FSIS employee listed, Carlynne Cockrum, is a lawyer who recently joined FSIS from USDA-OGC and has no background listed activities with the FSIS field activities.

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AFDO Statement: As we continue this work, focusing on improving the results for Healthy People 2030, we have identified a handful of key concepts for Salmonella; . . .”

Fact #3: As most of know, Healthy People 2030 sets data-driven national objectives to improve health and well-being over the next decade. The entire program is housed under and managed by HHS/ODPHP and includes 355 core (or measurable) objectives as well as developmental and research objectives. Healthy People 2030 includes a wide range of objectives developed by workgroups made up of subject matter experts (SMEs) in specific topics. FSIS has membership in the Food Safety Workgroup, which has 5 other major federal offices outside USDA. Unfortunately, the current FSIS website does not list a single specific Healthy People 2030 -target objective or goal that this agency is working on.  

AFDO Statement: AFDO and its members look forward to partnering with all those engaged in the food safety system so that by 2030 the Salmonella reduction targets have been met and exceeded, resulting in fewer people being impacted by foodborne illness.

Fact #4: While I commend AFDO’s efforts in support of the 2030 Salmonella reduction targets, before anything can proceed in this matter for meat and poultry, the current laws, FMIA and PPIA, must be modified or other laws enacted to provide federal oversight of pre-harvest on-farm food safety issues by USDA and FDA. 

Please note that neither USDA/APHIS, nor USDA/FSIS, nor FDA/CVM, nor FDA/CFSAN have any on-farm jurisdiction for food-safety related issues. Whereas APHIS has jurisdiction for animal diseases and CVM for drug-use violation oversight, none of these authorities cover any other human public health or food safety issues connected to poultry or livestock and the possible resistant microbial presence in feed or the food animals — as carriers. 

Although FSIS, APHIS, and CDC have made attempts to follow-up on animals that may be harboring and spreading Salmonella-related infections, the industry has blocked any such attempt. This is exemplified in the New York Times articles from last year. 

Whether we label Salmonella an “adulterant” or not, the microbe will not obey human commands. To control these pathogens the regulations must be modified, otherwise the poultry or meat markets by the industry should be consumed with the understanding that, even if there is a “USDA Inspected & Passed” stamp on the product, it was not checked for any pathogens prior to the application of this stamp and therefore – let the buyer — consumer — beware of the danger of these pathogens and handle the product accordingly. 

NB: My comments are based on my over 45 years experience in public health and food safety, with nine years as a state veterinarian and over 35 years in USDA/FSIS – starting as a field-level veterinarian and finishing my career at the top as the agency’s Chief PHV. and the Senior Leader for Chemistry, Toxicology & Related Sciences. Also, although I am not a lawyer, I have taken comprehensive graduate-level courses in all the U.S. food and drug laws from U.S. top universities. I am also PCQI certified, under the FDA/FSMA requirement. 

Thanks for this opportunity to comment.

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 — Dr. Pat Basu
Founder and owner of Food, Drug, and HACCP Consulting LLC


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