“Plenty is riding on the results of that laboratory test,” notes It Might Be E. Coli article in Food Safety Magazine. “If a laboratory reports that no E. coli is present in the food sample, then the product might proceed to market. If the results were incorrect, people may be sickened or die. In the reverse, if the laboratory wrongly reports the presence of a pathogen, the food product may be destroyed, causing economic losses to the food producer.”
“One very important component of FSMA still awaits FDA rulemaking, the oversight of the food laboratory…”, says Moving Toward Laboratory Standards published in the October/November 2014, edition of Food Quality & Safety magazine.
Andy Moreno, host of the popular AME Food Testing Show interviewed American Proficiency Institute’s (API) Food Technical Specialist, Christopher Snabes, BS, MS, CFS, regarding the API proficiency testing study on the accuracy of non-O157:H7 Shiga toxin-producing E. coli testing. The radio program is available for listening at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/ame-foodtestingshow/2014/09/24/api-study-on-the-accuracy-of-non-o157h7-shiga-toxin-producing-e-coli-testing
The interview discussed the technical aspects of non-O157:H7 Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) testing. Mr. Moreno also asked why the test was important to food producers. “The last thing a food producer wants to do is make their customers sick,” explained Snabes. “Food producers do their due diligence in protecting the consumer when they perform the non-O157 STEC analysis.”
Snabes further noted, “Laboratories can measure the accuracy of their results by enrolling in an accredited STEC proficiency testing program.”
“While the food industry is aware of the impact of STECs, some companies choose not to test until mandated to do so,” added Snabes.
U.S. Representatives Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Sam Farr (D-CA) called on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Administration’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to “fully implement the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).” In a joint letter, the representatives, both members of the subcommittee responsible for funding the Food and Drug Administration, also urge discontinuing the practice of requesting user fees to implement FSMA.
In the letter to HHS, the representatives acknowledge that the FDA “must have the resources to retrain the existing inspection workforce, hire new staff… and upgrade its information technology infrastructure” in order to realize a new risk-based oversight system. Yet, HHS budget requests for user fees as a mechanism for implementing FSMA should be ended. The letter states that this practice hides the “true cost of implementation and will likely be rejected.”
In the letter to OMB, Reps. DeLauro and Farr state, “A wide range of stakeholders, including Members of Congress who championed FSMA, want to see the implementing regulations finalized by the end of 2015… The food industry needs regulatory certainty, and consumers and public health leaders want effective new regulations to be in place as soon as possible in order to reduce the number of preventable foodborne illnesses.”
News coverage in Quality Assurance & Food Safety outlines the role and activities of the Food Laboratory Alliance on the occasion of its first anniversary. Read more about it here: http://www.qualityassurancemag.com/Food-Laboratory-Anniversary.aspx
Earlier this year, the Food Laboratory Alliance released the infographic, Behaving Falsely: When Food Lab Tests Go Bad, to demonstrate the impact that incorrect laboratory test results have on public health and the economy. Data used then to estimate the amount of food produced annually in the United States was woefully underreported. According to the Economic Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture, 430 billion pounds of food was produced annually in the United States in 2010[i], far more than the estimated 150 million pounds projected on the Alliance’s infographic.
The updated infographic explains how a false negative laboratory test result may lead to possible shipment of a contaminated product, risks consumer injury or death, and potentially damages food brand reputation and trust. A false positive test result, when a contaminant-free product is incorrectly rejected, may lead to economic losses as well as loss of trust on the food commodity and brand.
Accounting for the significantly higher estimates of food production, the infographic demonstrates that with a false positive rate of 3.1%, a whopping 6.05 billion kg (13.3 billion pounds) of food must be recalled, disposed, diverted or reworked. This translates to a missed opportunity to provide a daily ration for 2.6 billion people – more than one-third of the world’s population!
Improving the quality of food laboratory testing continues as the primary mission of the Food Laboratory Alliance.
[i] Buzby, Jean C., Hodan F. Wells, and Jeffrey Hyman. The Estimated Amount, Value, and Calories of Postharvest Food Losses at the Retail and Consumer Levels in the United States, EIB-121, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, February 2014.
Leading Consumer Group Joins Food Laboratory Alliance
One of the leading national food safety consumer groups, STOP Foodborne Illness, has joined the Food Laboratory Alliance, a coalition of organizations devoted to the safety of the nation’s food supply and the quality of food laboratory testing.
“We are proud to join with the Food Laboratory Alliance in advocating for food laboratory testing standards,” explains STOP Foodborne Illness CEO, Deirdre Schlunegger. “Many members of the STOP Board are food laboratory professionals who understand the testing environment and are passionate about it. The Alliance is a natural fit for STOP and our mission of preventing harm from foodborne pathogens.”
“We are pleased to welcome STOP Foodborne Illness to the Alliance,” said Robin Stombler, President of Auburn Health Strategies, LLC and Director of the Food Laboratory Alliance. “The Alliance represents hundreds of food laboratories, hundreds of thousands of food testing products and services, and millions of consumers through the work of its members. STOP Foodborne Illness adds an important voice in support of the quality of food laboratory testing.”