Science Is the Foundation of Food Safety at FDA

By: Michael R. Taylor, J.D.

Science is the foundation of everything we do at FDA to keep your food safe.

Michael R. Taylor, J.D.The Food Safety Modernization Act that President Obama signed into law in 2011 emphasizes prevention of foodborne illnesses. Margaret Hamburg, FDA’s commissioner, has made it our priority to base the agency’s regulatory decisions on sound, cutting-edge science.

We’re on the case.

The Office of Food and Veterinary Medicine (OFVM), which I am privileged to lead, is acting on a number of fronts to strengthen its scientific foundation. I am pleased to welcome David White as OFVM’s chief science officer and research director. Dr. White previously served as the director of the Office of Research at FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine. Palmer Orlandi Jr., another veteran scientist at FDA, is now our office’s senior science advisor.

We are marshalling our forces to work in the strongest, most effective way to keep the food that you eat, the food that you share with your family, free of dangerous levels of chemicals and bacteria like Salmonella, Listeria and E.coli.

We are prioritizing the work of our scientists in laboratories across the country based on which potential contaminants, such as disease-causing bacteria or chemicals, post the greatest risk to you.

Dr. White is the chairman of FDA’s Science and Research Steering Committee, which is made up of representatives from agency’s offices and center involved in food safety. These experts talk about research projects, before they even start, to ensure that everything we do furthers the goal of addressing the greatest threats to food safety.

FDA scientists are taking many different paths to that goal. Some respond to emergencies, working to rapidly identify the source of an outbreak. Others work longer term, exploring the genetic makeup of disease-causing bacteria and recovering information that will facilitate rapid identification in the future. Because science is always evolving and advancing, there are scientists who work to make sure that FDA has the most advanced tools with which to evaluate new technologies.

Scientists are developing new ways to detect bacteria like Salmonella in foods that include leafy greens, spices and pet foods. These tools will be invaluable surveillance tools that will help FDA prevent illness outbreaks. We are also exploring if certain bacteria would inhibit the spread of their disease-causing brethren if applied to tomatoes and other crops. This is just a sampling of the research that goes on every day at FDA.

FSMA gave FDA a mandate to implement a system that emphasizes prevention and prioritizes food safety challenges based on the risk they present to public health.

Our job is to make that mandate a reality. Part of the challenge is constantly evaluating our science and research agenda to make sure that it mirrors our public health priorities. These priorities change shape as bacteria evolve, new hazards emerge and new food-producing technologies are developed.

When you hear about science at FDA, there’s nothing theoretical about it. We are continually identifying the greatest threats to food safety and meeting them head on.

Michael R. Taylor is Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine

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