On-Farm Readiness Reviews Support Farmers as They Safeguard Produce

By: Scott Gottlieb, M.D., and Stephen Ostroff, M.D.

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Scott Gottlieb, M.D., Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration

We know how important it is to get produce safety right. Taking steps to prevent contamination of produce is the primary purpose of the Food Safety Modernization Act’s (FSMA) Produce Safety Rule. The FDA is committed to making sure that the standards designed to minimize the risk of contamination are workable, and that farmers have the information and tools needed to effectively implement them.

One of the resources now available to farmers is the On-Farm Readiness Review (OFRR) program. The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) created this program in collaboration with the FDA. On-Farm Readiness Reviews provide farmers real-time feedback on their current operations and facilities. These reviews can help farmers address any areas in need of improvement before a regulatory inspection takes place in the future. Working together, the aim is to improve the safety of the food supply while still maintaining a vibrant agriculture sector.

As part of this program for advance, readiness reviews, food safety professionals conduct voluntary, non-regulatory visits to farms and packinghouses. Their goal is to observe current practices and provide feedback on how those practices can be strengthened to better align with regulatory expectations. These reviews are not inspections. There are no written reports or paperwork associated with these visits.

Stephen Ostroff, M.D.

Stephen Ostroff, M.D., FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine.

Many states are using the cooperative agreement funds that they received from the FDA to support the program. When the FDA announced that regulatory inspections would be delayed until next year, we encouraged our state partners to redirect some of the funds they had initially planned for inspections to these activities. We have spent much time visiting with farmers and collaborating with them on a shared mission of food safety. We know that the farming community wants to be in compliance with food safety laws. Together, we see great value in helping farms strengthen their practices. The idea is to take steps now to make sure all farmers are ready for the implementation of FSMA’s inspections.

While market-driven, on-farm audits may not be new to produce farmers, FSMA-mandated inspections will be new. The readiness reviews give farmers an opportunity to get individualized feedback from food safety professionals before inspections begin next year. We visited farms on opposite coasts this summer to observe reviews and talk to farmers directly about the progress they’ve made and the challenges they foresee.

And the FDA is committed to continuing to work with farmers to address remaining issues.

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, right, talks with farmer Gary Willis in Hood River, Oregon.

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, right, talks with farmer Gary Willis in Hood River, Oregon.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture and NASDA organized one of our visits. It was to the Willis Family farm in Hood River, Oregon. On this trip, Alexis Taylor, the director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture; Bob Ehart, the NASDA senior policy and science advisor; and several other local farmers, accompanied us. Our FDA team included colleagues from FDA’s Produce Safety Network, who are regionally stationed around the country. These FDA colleagues are a tremendous asset to support the states, farmers, and other stakeholders in understanding and implementing the Produce Safety Rule.

The team began the review by explaining the OFRR process and walking through which parts of the Produce Safety Rule were relevant for farmer Gary Willis’ operations. They also discussed his established recordkeeping practices and the trainings he has already completed, both of which are helpful in meeting rule requirements. The tour of the farm had the feel of a guided conversation to better understand practices Mr. Willis has in place for equipment and facility maintenance, worker health and safety, and maintaining restroom and hand washing facilities. We also learned about the farm’s harvesting methods and irrigation system. This time spent with Mr. Willis was invaluable, and his commitment to food safety was clear. We are grateful for his invitation to us to join the visit. By the end of the review, Mr. Willis and his fellow farmers had a better understanding of what to expect during an inspection as well as a firmer grasp of how to meet the Produce Safety Rule requirements.

FDA Deputy Commissioner Stephen Ostroff, left, with farmer Brent Jackson in Autryville, North Carolina.

FDA Deputy Commissioner Stephen Ostroff, left, with farmer Brent Jackson in Autryville, North Carolina.

A second visit was to the Jackson Farming Company in North Carolina. This visit gave us another opportunity to personally see the value of these reviews. Here the OFRR focused on worker hygiene and training, along with food packing and storage. The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, NASDA, North Carolina State University, and the North Carolina Farm Bureau organized this OFRR tour. We were joined by North Carolina Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler to meet farm owner Brent Jackson, his son Rodney, and his food safety team.

At the farm, we observed the steps they’re taking to ensure workers are properly trained on their jobs, and don’t contaminate produce; steps to identify workers who are sick and shouldn’t be around produce; the access to hand washing and bathroom facilities; and when gloves, aprons and other barrier protections are used.  We also walked through the packing operation as the season’s last cantaloupes came in from the field and saw how they were unloaded, cleaned, sorted, packed, cooled and stored.

Throughout this visit, we saw firsthand the benefit of the continuous dialogue, interaction and information sharing between the OFRR team and farm staff. Both parties were fully engaged in talking through the requirements and determining whether the farm appears to be meeting the standards or how processes can be improved to ensure they’re met. The fact that farm staff had been through the Produce Safety Alliance training before our visit helped them understand the process of the review and major components of the FSMA rule. It made for an efficient and effective visit.

Our time spent with these family farmers only deepened our appreciation for the hardworking American farming community, and affirmed the value of state, NASDA, and FDA efforts to make the OFRR program and other training and technical assistance available. During the final day of the visit to North Carolina, the FDA also had the opportunity to participate in Agriculture Commissioner Troxler’s 14th annual Food Safety Symposium. More than 300 people from around the state attended this gathering. The event focused on the Produce Safety Rule. It provided a valuable educational opportunity for the state’s farming community. It was encouraging to see so many North Carolinians at the event and such significant interest and enthusiasm throughout the farming community regarding food safety.

It’s reassuring to see how useful OFRR visits can be in helping farmers understand what to expect in working with us to help ensure the safety of the fruits and vegetables we serve our families. We encourage farmers to take advantage of these reviews. Interested farmers should first attend a Produce Safety Alliance (PSA) training course (or equivalent). Upcoming training courses are listed on the PSA website. Once trained, farmers should contact their state Department of Agriculture (or the Department of Health in Alaska and Indiana). Farmers can also contact NASDA at ofrr@nasda.org for more information. 

Scott Gottlieb, M.D. is the Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration; Stephen Ostroff, M.D., is FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine.

Follow Commissioner Gottlieb on Twitter @SGottliebFDA

Protecting and Promoting Public Health: Advancing the FDA’s Medical Countermeasures Mission

By Anna Abram

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s wide-ranging public health responsibilities include the vital role we play on the frontlines of national security by facilitating the development and availability of safe and effective medical countermeasures. These are the vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics that are needed to protect our nation from chemical, biological, and radiological and nuclear threats, whether naturally occurring, accidental, or deliberate. As in so many areas of public health, our work here is critical, and we are ever-cognizant of its urgency.

One of the many areas in which the agency is continuing to take steps to facilitate the development of medical countermeasures to protect Americans is with respect to the threat of smallpox. The World Health Assembly declared naturally occurring smallpox eradicated worldwide in 1980, following an unprecedented global immunization campaign. However, small amounts of the variola virus – the virus that causes smallpox – still exist for research purposes in two labs; one of these labs is in the U.S. and the other in Russia. Despite the eradication of naturally occurring smallpox disease, there are longstanding concerns that the variola virus could be used as a weapon. Since routine vaccination was discontinued in the 1970s, many people would be at high risk of getting very ill or dying if exposed to this highly contagious virus.

Medical Countermeasures Against Smallpox

The development of medical countermeasures for smallpox presents complex and unique challenges. It is not possible to conduct clinical trials involving patients with naturally occurring smallpox and exposing humans to the variola virus would be ethically unthinkable. To address this challenge – which also applies to many of the high-priority threat agents for which medical countermeasure are being developed – the FDA in 2002 established the Animal Rule, which allows efficacy data to be obtained solely from studies in animals when studies in humans are not ethical or feasible, provided the results can be reasonably extrapolated to expected human use and plans can be made for follow-up study when appropriate. (The FDA finalized guidance on product development under the Animal Rule in 2015).

Anna Abram

Anna Abram is FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Policy, Planning, Legislation, and Analysis

However, the variola virus poses additional issues for drug developers. Unlike other products studied under the Animal Rule, studies of smallpox countermeasures require not just a surrogate host but also a surrogate pathogen. Most pathogens are capable of infecting multiple host species and therefore can be studied in other, nonhuman, species. But the variola virus only infects humans, which means that variola virus animal models are unlikely to convincingly resemble the human disease. To help delineate a path forward, the FDA issued a draft guidance “Smallpox (Variola) Infection: Developing Drugs for Treatment and Prevention” in 2007 and brought these important issues to an FDA public workshop in 2009 and an FDA advisory committee meeting in 2011. The revised draft guidance issued last week incorporates this input, providing developers with additional clarity on the regulatory path for products intended to treat smallpox. It recommends that efficacy be demonstrated based on studies in two animal models infected with related viruses – such as a monkey model using monkeypox and a rabbit model using rabbitpox. This guidance underscores how the FDA is continually working to identify and apply efficient solutions based on the most up-to date science in its regulation of safe and effective medical products.

The ultimate testament to the success of these efforts is the approval on July 13 of TPOXX (teconvirimat), the first drug with an indication for the treatment of smallpox and the 14th medical countermeasure approved under the Animal Rule. In conjunction with this product approval, the sponsor was awarded the first Material Threat Medical Countermeasure Priority Review Voucher, established by the 21st Century Cures Act, to incentivize the development of certain medical countermeasures against some of the most serious threat agents.

The FDA’s Other Recent Work on Medical Countermeasures

Smallpox isn’t the only area of medical countermeasure work ongoing at the FDA. On July 10, we approved an autoinjector which provides a one-time dose of the antidote atropine to block the effects of a nerve agent or certain insecticide poisonings (organophosphorus and/or carbamate).

We also recently issued an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to the Department of Defense (DoD), permitting the emergency use of a specific freeze-dried plasma product manufactured to treat U.S. military personnel with severe or life-threatening hemorrhage or coagulopathy (a condition that affects the blood’s ability to clot) due to traumatic injuries sustained in the conduct of military operations in situations when plasma is not available or when its use is not practical. The use of plasma in combat settings is severely limited by logistical and operational challenges, such as the need for refrigeration and, in the case of frozen plasma, a long thawing period. In January 2018, the FDA and DoD announced a joint program to prioritize the efficient development of safe and effective medical products intended to save the lives of American military personnel.  We are working closely with our DoD colleagues in these important priority areas, including the goal of having a licensed freeze-dried plasma product as soon as possible.

These are just some of the ways in which the FDA has been hard at work to advance our medical countermeasure mission. But there is more work to do and the agency is committed to doing it. We are constantly reminded that chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear threats – whether deliberate, naturally occurring or accidental – can, and often do, emerge with little to no warning. Emerging threats are often not deterred by geographical boundaries in our modern times. The recent Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo is a reminder of the need to remain ever vigilant in our work to advance medical countermeasures as part of protecting and promoting public health.

We are committed to doing all that we can to continue to facilitate the development and availability of medical countermeasures. The FDA’s Medical Countermeasures Initiative (MCMi), established in 2010, is focused on providing clear regulatory pathways for medical countermeasures, advancing regulatory science to support regulatory decision-making, and articulating important regulatory policies and mechanisms to facilitate the timely development and availability of medical countermeasures. These actions are translating into tangible results. Since 2012, the FDA has approved, licensed or cleared more than 120 medical countermeasures (including supplemental changes to already approved applications and modifications to diagnostic devices) for a diverse array of threats including anthrax, smallpox, botulinum toxin, plague, and pandemic influenza.

Under the MCMi, the FDA is taking key actions to address many of the challenges associated with countermeasure development. For example, we still do not have adequate animal models to support the development of medical countermeasures against many potential biothreats nor do we have sufficient biomarkers to assist in supporting the extrapolation of data generated in animal models to humans. Without such tools, it can be difficult to generate the data necessary to support regulatory decision-making.

Given the urgency inherent in our medical countermeasure work, addressing these regulatory science gaps remains a high priority for the agency. To help address these challenges, the FDA has established a broad and robust portfolio of cutting-edge research under the MCMi Regulatory Science Program and is working with our private sector and government partners, including DoD, to help facilitate the translation of discoveries in science and technology into safe and effective medical countermeasures. Congress has also provided vital support and our recent actions in this space underscore how we are fully leveraging the authorities Congress has given us, including measures enacted as part of the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Reauthorization Act of 2013 and the 21st Century Cures Act.

The FDA remains deeply committed to working closely with its partners to achieve our mission of protecting and promoting the public health, both at home and abroad, by doing our part to facilitate the timely development of safe and effective medical countermeasures to protect our nation.

Anna Abram is the FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Policy, Planning, Legislation and Analysis.

The American Chamber of Horrors

By: Vanessa Burrows, Ph.D., Suzanne Junod, Ph.D., and John Swann, Ph.D.

In the early 20th century, Americans were inundated with ineffective and dangerous drugs, as well as adulterated and deceptively packaged foods.

A cosmetic eyelash and eyebrow dye called Lash Lure, for example, which promised women that it would help them “radiate personality,” in fact contained a poison that caused ulceration of the corneas and degeneration of the eyeballs. An elixir called Banbar claimed to cure diabetes as an alternative to insulin, but actually provided no real treatment and caused harm to those patients who substituted this for effective insulin therapy. Food producers short-changed consumers by substituting cheaper ingredients. Some products labeled as peanut butter, for instance, were filled with lard and contained just a trace of peanuts, and some products marketed as “jellies” had no fruit in them at all.  Unscrupulous vendors even sold products to farmers, falsely promising they could treat sick animals – in at least one case, a product called Lee’s Gizzard Capsules killed an entire flock of turkeys instead of curing them.

Although the FDA sought to remove these unsafe and misleading products from commerce, it was severely limited in its efforts by the 1906 Pure Food and Drugs Act.  That law laid the cornerstone for the modern FDA and marked a monumental shift in the use of government powers to enhance consumer protection by requiring that foods and drugs bear truthful labeling statements and meet certain standards for purity and strength.

Over time, however, the shortcomings of the Pure Food and Drugs Act became apparent, as it failed to take into account the extraordinary changes in industries, products, markets, and advertising tactics. Dangerous drugs were a particular problem. As long as a drug met the law’s labeling requirements, the agency did not have the authority to remove even clearly dangerous products such as radium water and drugs with poisonous ingredients from the market because legal action against a drug product required a finding of fraud. If a drug’s maker could convince a court that he truly believed his own therapeutic claims, he won his case. In addition, the law provided no authority over cosmetics or medical devices, and did not specifically authorize standards for foods, which limited the agency’s ability to take action on behalf of consumers.

A popular book of the day, “100,000,000 Guinea Pigs: Dangers in Everyday Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics,” claimed that consumers were being used as guinea pigs in a giant experiment by food companies and makers of patent medicines, with the authors blaming the FDA for failing to act. But the critics failed to acknowledge the limits of the agency’s authority under the law at the time.

In an effort to inform the public about the 1906 law’s shortcomings, the FDA’s Chief Education Officer, Ruth deForest Lamb, and its Chief Inspector, George Larrick, led the creation of an influential traveling exhibit in 1933 to highlight about 100 dangerous, deceptive, or worthless products that the FDA lacked authority to remove from the market.

The exhibition was put on display at events like the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago, at state fairs, and on Capitol Hill. It was so shocking that it was dubbed the “American Chamber of Horrors” by a reporter who accompanied First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to view the exhibit. Lamb also adapted the exhibit into a 1936 book in which she explained, “All of these tragedies…have happened, not because Government officials are incompetent or callous, but because they have no real power to prevent them.”

The exhibit, which was viewed by millions, was an enormous success, helping promote greater awareness and understanding about the FDA’s role in protecting the public and the need for greater consumer protection and the limitations on its power to do so. To this end, it played an important role in moving Congress to enact a stronger food and drug law – the 1938 Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

The 1938 law, which has been amended many times and remains the law of the land today, brought cosmetics and medical devices under the FDA’s authority, and required that drugs be labeled with adequate directions for safe use. It also mandated pre-market approval of all new drugs, such that a manufacturer would have to prove to the FDA that a drug was safe before it could be sold. And it prohibited false therapeutic claims for drugs. The Act also corrected abuses in food packaging and quality, and it mandated legally enforceable food standards. It formally authorized factory inspections, and added injunctions to the agency’s enforcement tools. In short, it gave the FDA many of the means it has today to protect the American public.

Many of the products from the original Chamber of Horrors exhibit are in the FDA’s permanent collection, and, to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the 1938 law, they are part of a special display currently on exhibit at the FDA. The objects provide a compelling visual record of how far science has brought us from the worthless and dangerous elixirs, foods, and other consumer products of the early 20th century, as well as underscoring the essential role the FDA today plays in protecting and promoting American health.

Vanessa Burrows, Ph.D., Suzanne Junod, Ph.D., and John Swann, Ph.D., are FDA Historians

Report Spotlights Achievements of FDA-Mexico Produce Safety Partnership

En Español

By: Stephen M. Ostroff, M.D.

The United States and Mexico are major trading partners in fresh produce. Each year, billions of dollars of fruits and vegetables move across the border. These include Mexican tomatoes, avocados, chilies, berries, cucumbers, lemons, and limes that reach U.S. consumers, as well as American apples, pears, grapes, onions, strawberries, potatoes, peaches and other produce that are sent to Mexico.

Stephen Ostroff, M.D.Both our countries benefit when we can help to ensure that these valuable commodities are safe for consumers on both sides of our borders. For that reason, the FDA-Mexico Produce Safety Partnership (PSP) was formed in July 2014, forging a stronger relationship between the FDA and Mexico’s National Agro-Alimentary Health, Safety, and Quality Service (SENASICA) and its Federal Commission for the Protection from Sanitary Risk (COFEPRIS).

We are pleased to share that our partnership is making real progress toward our goal of reducing the risk of foodborne illness associated with our produce trade. A new report, titled U.S. FDA-Mexico Produce Safety Partnership: A Dynamic Partnership in Action, provides some specific examples of this progress.

For example, the partnership recently worked to address the contamination of papayas grown in Mexico. In the fall of 2017, the FDA, SENASICA and COFEPRIS worked together to respond to four outbreaks of salmonellosis tied to Mexican-grown papayas. The Mexican agencies conducted inspections and sampled various farms and packing houses in several Mexican states, and shared their findings with the FDA. We were able to leverage their work and resources, along with the findings of our own outbreak investigation, to place four farms on import alert, thus providing information to the FDA inspectors who detained those products without having to physically examine them. SENASICA likewise implemented a regulatory response. In October 2017, Mexico strengthened its food safety oversight of papayas, which are subject to the Produce Safety Rule under the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act if they will be imported or offered for import in the U.S.

Chart - Mexico Exports of Fresh Produce to USAIn another example, in 2015, Listeria monocytogenes was detected in kiwi and apples grown in the U.S. and exported to Mexico. The exchange of information under the PSP, including the sharing of bacterial isolates and testing by both FDA and SENASICA laboratories, helped prevent more contaminated produce from entering Mexico. It also established a protocol for the future exchange of bacterial strains to improve detection and understanding of contamination.

These are just two of several instances in which the partnership has led to coordinated preventive activities in addition to enforcement activities that help to reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses and enable both countries to respond more rapidly to a potential or actual outbreak, better protecting both American and Mexican consumers.

Chart - U.S. Exports of Fresh Produce to MexicoBut the partnership has also provided benefits beyond individual outbreaks. Both countries have also been working collaboratively through working groups on institutionalizing approaches that reinforce preventive practices and rapid response to outbreaks. The groups have focused on information sharing, education and outreach, training, laboratory methods and processes, and how to respond effectively to outbreaks.

Looking to the future, the report outlines our five-year plan to increase engagement and the exchange of knowledge with key public and private partners. Through the partnership, we plan to also work on identifying common approaches for auditors and inspectors to better execute compliance and enforcement activities, and will create a strategy to conduct joint inspections and sampling. This will help both countries maximize their resources for the benefit of consumers on both sides of the border.

This is a long-term partnership. While there are differences in our systems, technologies, and environments, the U.S. and Mexico both want consumers to be confident in the safety of their food. By working together, we can achieve that goal.

Stephen M. Ostroff, M.D., is FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine.

FDA’s New Efforts to Advance Biotechnology Innovation

By: Scott Gottlieb, M.D., and Anna Abram

Scientific advances in biotechnology, such as genome editing and synthetic biology, hold enormous potential to improve human and animal health, animal welfare, and food security. And researchers and companies based in the United States helped pioneer these technologies. They position the U.S. as a global leader of this rapidly growing and highly promising field.

Dr. Scott Gottlieb

Scott Gottlieb, M.D., Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration

To advance this progress, it’s key that the FDA adopt a regulatory approach to these technologies that’s as innovative and nimble as the opportunities that we’re tasked with evaluating.

FDA is committed to helping ensure the safety of biotechnology products, while also facilitating innovation by applying a risk-based regulatory approach that provides developers with regulatory clarity and predictability and maintains public confidence in our regulatory system.

And we’re taking some new steps to advance these goals. We know that products enabled by new techniques of biotechnology have the potential to significantly enhance public health.

For instance, these new methods can be used to alter animals to minimize or prevent their ability to spread human disease. Genome editing in animals and plants also can be used to produce human drugs, devices, or biologics, including tissues or organs for xenotransplantation. Scientists are also exploring editing the genomes of animals with the goal of improving the health and welfare of food producing animals and public health, for example by reducing their susceptibility to diseases like novel influenzas and resistance to zoonotic or foreign animal diseases.

Similar and equally beneficial applications of genome editing are currently being explored in food crops. These include our ability to develop disease-resistant plants and plants with increased resistance to environmental stress. Such advances can have many advantages to consumers, including better yields, more product variety, and healthier nutrient profiles.

Anna Abram

Anna Abram, FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Policy, Planning, Legislation, and Analysis

We believe the FDA is uniquely positioned — with the expertise, experience, credibility and trusted scientific framework — to advance innovation and support the development of products with immense potential for public benefit. And we’re fully committed to these goals.

The breadth of FDA’s statutory authorities and regulatory framework allows us to comprehensively review the potential impacts of products on both human and animal health. For example, for genetically engineered animals, FDA evaluates not only the safety of food or drug products derived from that animal, but also the effect of the genetic alteration on the health of the animal. FDA has decades of experience successfully evaluating products of complex technologies, such as recombinant DNA-derived plant foods, medicines made with nanotechnology, and cellular and gene therapy products.

Moreover, because of the wide spectrum of products that we regulate, and the in-depth scientific and policy engagement that the agency has with innovators and counterpart regulatory agencies around the world, FDA can help facilitate the progression of research and development. For example, we’re focused on the timely transition of technologies from animal research models to products intended for use in humans. As our knowledge of genome editing applications increases over different product areas, we expect to build on those even greater synergies and increase our understanding to help with assessments of risks to human and animal health.

FDA will continue to apply a risk-based framework grounded in sound science to evaluate products of plant and animal biotechnology, and our framework will continue to evolve as science advances and experience with these technologies grows. We also look forward to working with stakeholders to help understand current scientific information and describe challenges and gaps in regulatory science that are important for our regulatory decision-making. We’re also going to take new steps to help developers understand their responsibility to ensure product safety and we’ll identify ways to help reduce unnecessary regulatory burden and undue barriers to bring potential beneficial products to commercialization while ensuring their safety.

Protecting and promoting public health is our mission and we’re taking steps to help ensure the safety (and as applicable, effectiveness) of products that can benefit patients and consumers, while supporting innovation and sustaining public confidence.

To help advance these goals, in early May, FDA formed a new Biotech Working Group. This Working Group is comprised of representatives from multiple FDA centers and offices. In the coming months, we’ll release an Action Plan that lays out the steps we intend to take to ensure that we have a flexible regulatory framework for evaluating the safety of products that also supports plant and animal biotechnology innovation.

Our actions will focus on three key areas:

First, advancing and protecting public and animal health by promoting innovation through an efficient and predictable science- and risk-based regulatory framework; second, strengthening public outreach and communication through strong, effective and transparent engagement with stakeholders; and third, increasing engagement with domestic and international partners through coordinated and collaborative actions to support regulatory alignment and efficiency.

The Working Group’s efforts are well underway and we’ll be providing more details soon.

Finally, we’ll continue the work we began to modernize the regulatory system for biotechnology, including the effort in 2015 with USDA and EPA to ensure preparedness of federal regulatory agencies for future products of biotechnology; as well as the implementation of the 2018 recommendations of the Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity. We’ll also continue to build on our Formal Agreement with the USDA, which commits the FDA and USDA to better align and enhance our efforts to develop regulatory approaches to biotechnology.

We’re committed to all of these goals, and we look forward to working with the Interagency Task Force and sharing more of our important work with our stakeholders going forward.

FDA is taking concrete and proactive steps to help ensure the safety of plant and animal biotechnology products, while promoting innovation and enhancing public and market confidence in FDA’s regulation of these products at home and abroad. We recognize the tremendous opportunities offered by this new technology. We’re committed to developing a framework that allows these innovations to safely advance, to fulfill the potential envisioned by those who are pioneering these approaches, and to inspire public confidence in these methods.

The advance of these technologies holds significant public health promise. Unlocking their full potential and competitiveness depends on the trust we build now and in the years to come.

Scott Gottlieb, M.D., is Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration 

Anna Abram is FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Policy, Planning, Legislation, and Analysis

Follow Commissioner Gottlieb on Twitter @SGottliebFDA

FDA Update on Traceback Related to the E. coli O157:H7 Outbreak Linked to Romaine Lettuce

By: Scott Gottlieb, M.D., and Stephen Ostroff, M.D.

The FDA continues to investigate the outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 infections associated with romaine lettuce from the Yuma growing region. Any contaminated product from the Yuma growing region has already worked its way through the food supply and is no longer available for consumption. So any immediate risk is gone. However, the FDA is committed to investigating the source of the outbreak and working with industry to help prevent similar events in the future.

Dr. Scott Gottlieb

Scott Gottlieb, M.D., Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration

This is a serious and tragic outbreak. And we’re devoting considerable effort to identifying the primary source. We’ve made progress in recent weeks toward this goal. This outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 illnesses is the largest in the United States in more than 10 years. As of today, it has affected 172 persons in 32 states, and it is anticipated the numbers will be updated on Friday. Tragically, 45 percent of these ill people have been hospitalized, and one has died. And 20 of these people have developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), one of the most serious complications that can occur with E. coli O157:H7 infection.

These statistics reflect the severity of this particular foodborne illness. The kidney damage that’s associated with HUS can require temporary dialysis and the kidneys may never fully recover. For these reasons, anytime outbreaks caused by this pathogen occur, we need to find the root cause of the contamination and determine what went wrong. We need to relay these findings to industry so that measures can be put in place to prevent it from happening again.

The FDA’s investigators are actively searching for answers as to the source of this outbreak, and what steps can be taken to prevent it from recurring in future growing seasons. In the current outbreak, illness has generally been linked to the consumption of chopped romaine lettuce. The lettuce was generally consumed at restaurants or purchased at markets. In one cluster of illnesses at an Alaska correctional facility, the prison received and served whole head romaine lettuce rather than chopped and bagged romaine.

The FDA and our state partners have been involved in extensive traceback efforts of the romaine lettuce that was likely consumed by those who became ill. Traceback involves working backwards from the point of consumption or purchase of the product through the supply chain. It often includes investigating the multiple steps along the way. These steps can include suppliers, distributors and processors where the lettuce was chopped and bagged, and then back to the farm or farms that could have grown the lettuce that ended up in those bags. It’s a labor-intensive task. It requires collecting and evaluating thousands of records; and trying to accurately reproduce how the contaminated lettuce moved through the food supply chain to grocery stores, restaurants and other locations where it was sold or served to the consumers who became ill.

Stephen Ostroff, M.D.

Stephen Ostroff, M.D., FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine

Our traceback efforts are designed to find points of convergence from several well identified clusters of illness with a common point of exposure, such as a restaurant or grocery store. This means that as we draw lines for each cluster from one point in the supply chain to another point, we look for places where the lines will intersect and lead back to a common location. This can then help clarify where the contamination may have taken place.

We usually do this for clusters of ill individuals that occurred in different parts of the country; since lettuce in one part of the country may not follow the same pathway as lettuce in another part of the country. When that point of convergence is identified, efforts can then focus on how the contamination occurred at that location.

We’ve conducted traceback activities for many of the illnesses identified in this outbreak. We’ve used this information to create a traceback diagram that we’re releasing today. The diagram does not include tracebacks for all 172 cases. Rather, it focuses on settings where there were several well-documented clusters of cases. As additional traceback information is received, we anticipate the diagram will be updated.

As can be seen in the diagram, in the current outbreak, and based on the information we have to date, there are still no obvious points of convergence along the supply chain. There is only one straight line back to a single farm. And that particular instance involves the whole head lettuce served in the Alaska correctional facility, since it was not processed and was not mixed with lettuce from multiple farms, as seen in other parts of the traceback.

In these other tracebacks in the diagram, there are different suppliers, distributors and/or processors. These pathways lead back to different farms, sometimes many farms, where possibly contaminated lettuce could have been harvested during the timeframe of interest. The only point of commonality in our traceback efforts to date is that all of the farms are located in the Yuma growing region. This region is where a large portion of the romaine lettuce supply in the United States comes from during the winter months.

What does this traceback diagram tell us?

It says that there isn’t a simple or obvious explanation for how this outbreak occurred within the supply chain. If the explanation was as simple as a single farm, or a single processor or distributor, we would have already figured that out. The traceback diagram does show us that the contamination with E. coli O157:H7 was unlikely to have happened near the end of the supply chain (such as at a distributor) because there are no common distributors among the places that received and sold or served contaminated lettuce. The contamination likely happened at, or close to, the Yuma growing area.

Our task now is to investigate what happened. We are actively evaluating a number of theories about how romaine lettuce grown on multiple farms in the same growing region could have become contaminated around the same time. It’s possible that contamination occurred on multiple farms at once, through some sort of environmental contamination (e.g., irrigation water, air/dust, water used for pesticide application, animal encroachment). Another possibility is that it happened just after the lettuce left the farm. We are examining all possibilities and as we investigate we learn more about a potential common source we will communicate this information with growers and consumers. But the source and mode of contamination may remain difficult to identify.

Our efforts are complicated by the fact that romaine lettuce is a perishable commodity with a short shelf life of a couple of weeks. None of the lettuce that likely made people sick was available for testing because of the time between the incubation period of E. coli O157:H7 (the time between exposure to the lettuce and the onset of illness) and the time it takes to seek health care and collect specimens from ill people, test those specimens, report the illnesses to public health officials, fingerprint the pathogen to make sure it is part of the outbreak, and interview the ill people to identify where and when they were exposed.  By that time, the lettuce they ate which could have made them ill is long gone.

Similarly, the lettuce growing and harvesting season in the Yuma growing region was essentially over by the time the outbreak was recognized in April, and harvesting has since ceased. That is why we, and our colleagues at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have said that there’s no longer any romaine lettuce from the Yuma growing region available for purchase or consumption.

Romaine lettuce production in this area is now idle until later in the year. This makes it difficult to find places where the E. coli O157:H7 organism that caused the outbreak may have been hiding.

We have no evidence that romaine lettuce from other growing regions have been a part of this outbreak.

The FDA is looking at all possibilities for how the contamination may have caused such a large outbreak. This work will continue. In these efforts, we’re collaborating with outside experts who may have insights, ideas, or suggestions. This includes working with farmers, technical experts, the lettuce processing industry, state partners, and others. It also includes on-site assessments. Through such assessments we may be able to find a possible explanation so that steps can be taken to prevent this problem from recurring.

We’re committed to these efforts, and finding the root cause of this outbreak.

Romaine lettuce is one of the most popular types of lettuce in this country. We want American consumers to be confident in the quality and safety of the lettuce they consume. In addition to working to identify the source and mode of contamination, we will also continue working after the outbreak to evaluate what happened and how lessons learned can be used to provide feedback to industry on best practices and areas to work on. These include better tools to more efficiently and swiftly traceback commodities like lettuce through the supply chain, and better ways to standardize record keeping. We also want to explore the use of additional tools on product packaging that could improve traceability. For example, could QR codes be used to provide additional information that could help consumers more easily identify which lettuce should be avoided and which lettuce is ok to eat?

We’re also working with the leafy greens industry and technical experts to explore methods to grow and process lettuce in ways that further reduce the risk of outbreaks. We live in an era of unprecedented innovation and technology, and we want to bring more of that innovation and technology to bear to help solve this problem and ensure consumer confidence in healthy fruits and vegetables.

Food safety is one of the highest priorities at the FDA. This outbreak is a clear illustration of why that’s the case. It shows the terrible consequences when something goes wrong.

This outbreak marks the importance of moving forward with the Food Safety Modernization Act’s Produce Safety Rule. That rule is designed to implement practical measures to prevent contamination of fruits and vegetables at the farm. This rule is being implemented in close collaboration with our state partners and with our federal partners at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

State partners will do the vast majority of routine inspections under the Produce Safety Rule. They are often the most familiar with their farming communities and growing and harvest practices. These inspections are slated to begin next year. We’re currently in the process of finalizing the guidance and training farmers throughout the country and those who ship produce to the U.S. on the rule’s requirements.

We believe that the measures outlined by the Produce Safety Rule, when fully implemented, will reduce the chance of an outbreak similar to the one we just experienced. That’s our goal, and our commitment, to the American public.

Scott Gottlieb, M.D., is Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Stephen Ostroff, M.D., is FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine

Follow Commissioner Gottlieb on Twitter @SGottliebFDA

Food Information That’s Pro Market and Pro Consumer

By: Scott Gottlieb, M.D.

Information about how healthy our food is gives us the chance to make better choices about our diets. This same information also inspires competition among producers to formulate food in ways that make it more healthful.

Dr. Scott GottliebThese core principles are at the heart of FDA’s recent initiative to expand opportunities for food manufacturers to make voluntary claims on food products about the healthy attributes of their merchandise. Easier access to this information is something both consumers and manufactures want. More Americans are looking for healthier food options. At the same time, food producers should be able to compete on the ability to develop foods that are healthier, and make reliable, science-based claims about these attributes to consumers.

So at FDA, we’re reforming our policies to make it more efficient to develop these claims. This clarity may encourage more manufacturers to invest in making foods healthier.

These same principles also underlie our efforts to promote the disclosure of basic information about calories on chain restaurant menus. Americans drink or eat about one-third of their daily calories outside the home. While we all want to be able to share a good meal with our families, our hectic lives often have us looking to chain restaurants or take-out meals for convenience and value. Food options aren’t always healthy. But there’s no reason that convenient, affordable food can’t also be wholesome.

America is the world’s breadbasket, with some of the most innovative manufacturers. Whether companies are formulating food to be sold at grocery stores for meals we prepare ourselves — or served in restaurants or grab-and-go establishments — they should have the same incentives to compete on delivering healthy, inexpensive food options that are also tasteful. And food producers and retailers should have the same ability to make claims about the healthy attributes of their products.

Driving this “healthy” competition depends on transparency and a level playing field.

This is why FDA is implementing efficient rules to make sure that consumers are provided with some basic information about the nutritional features of food provided both through our nutrition facts label that consumers see on food sold in stores, as well as through the new restaurant menu label rule that goes into effect next week.

Over the past year we’ve worked hard to make sure this new rule can be implemented in a way where the information will be maximally beneficial to consumers and the new requirements will be minimally burdensome to restaurants and retail establishments.

National menu labeling could help make a big difference in America’s obesity rates, one of our most vexing public health challenges. Today, about 40 percent of all Americans are obese, and obesity increases the chances of developing heart disease, diabetes, and some types of cancer. Weight-related diseases and conditions reduce productivity and shorten lives due to decades of metabolic damage. Obesity also is a big driver of chronic disease.

Starting next Monday, consumers will be able to walk into any large chain restaurant and other chain establishments in the country and know, at a glance, how many calories are in the foods a restaurant offers. Surveys show consumers overwhelmingly want this information. And many use it to improve their diets and health.

Studies show that menu labeling can make an important difference in every day food choices that add up over time. Recent research shows that smart menu labeling reduces the average number of calories ordered by 30 to 50 calories per visit.

That may sound like a small amount. It comes out to less than a cookie a day. But over a year, based on that sort of reduction, you could end up consuming 10,000 to 20,000 fewer calories, making you three to five pounds slimmer. Consuming just 64 fewer calories per day, on average, would help the nation meet the government’s goal of reducing youth obesity by 2020. Better information that prompts people to cut 50 calories a day out of their diets can go a long way. And, over time, this can drive population-wide changes.

Creating a level playing field for menu labeling is only one of the steps FDA is pursuing to leverage diet as a way to help Americans reduce their burden of chronic disease.

We’re also taking final steps to implement the new Nutrition Facts label. This is the first overhaul of food labeling in more than 20 years. Consumers will soon have access to an updated food label that’s based on current science. It provides more easily understandable information to help Americans to build healthy, home-cooked menus when they’re shopping in grocery stores.

And FDA is taking new steps to modernize our approach to food claims. Claims can show that a food component may reduce the risk of a health-related condition, such as the relationship between folate and the reduction in risk of a child being born with certain birth defects, or high fiber and low fat diets reducing the risk of developing some types of cancer. Claims can also help consumers quickly identify foods that are lower in a food component that they are trying to avoid like sodium.

Combining food claims and enhanced labels can allow families to mix and match foods and meals that contain essential nutrients, while staying within caloric guidelines. Consumers also will have an easy to use and consistent baseline for the nutrition information that they need to better manage their health. These efforts were outlined in a nutrition initiative that I announced last month. Our goal is to leverage diet as a way to reduce death from chronic disease.

Consumers already are demanding more information about their diets, becoming smarter shoppers, and seeking out healthier options. In a 2016 survey of more than 1,500 consumers, virtually all responded that it’s important that the brands and manufacturers they buy from are transparent about what is in their food and how it is made. It’s in everyone’s interest to have meaningful nutrition information and claims that consumers can understand and trust.

We’ve already seen healthy changes in the restaurant market supported by consumers, like coffee chains shifting their recipes from whole milk to two percent milk. You can still order whole milk, but now the default option is better for your health and your waistline. Many kid’s meals now come with the option of apple slices instead of fries. These are changes for the better without taking away anyone’s choices. This is how information drives competition by producers to make food more healthful, and also make consumers more discerning. Armed with reliable information, consumers are making these choices.

I know not everyone has supported restaurant menu labels. Not every chain wants to display calorie information. But consumers want this data. And FDA has taken steps to make it easy for manufacturers and restaurants to provide this information in cost effective ways already found in many chains. In addition, firms won’t need to deal with a patchwork of different requirements for calorie labeling across the country.

In the guidance we’ll soon release, we took the concerns of the industry to heart, particularly that it could be costly to display calorie information. So, we lay out flexible options for complying with the requirements ranging from low-tech paper menu handouts to utilizing the electronic kiosks that are becoming commonplace in food establishments around the country. These options won’t require costly changes to existing infrastructure.

Further, we’ve made clear that materials used for marketing don’t have to have calorie counts on them. That picture of a delicious cheeseburger doesn’t require a calorie declaration. And when it comes to build-your-own foods, like choose-your-topping pizzas, calorie ranges can be used to make the various combinations fit on a standard-size menu board. We also provide more flexibility when it comes to the calories information that restaurants need to disclose. We know that prepared food can diverge from one entree to the next. So we allow room for that variability.

Pizza makers don’t need to worry about that extra slice of pepperoni.

America’s food industry is ripe for innovation. Consumers want healthier options and food producers want to develop these choices and make claims about these attributes. We support those innovations. And science-based regulations and transparent labels make it easier for consumers to understand the impact that day-to-day food choices have on their long-term health. They also make it practical for producers to compete on these features.

Consumers also want to have the chance to make informed choices about the meals they eat out based on access to nutritional information. Our goal is to establish a menu labeling framework that allows our broad food industry to meet these desires in an efficient and cost-effective manner that also accommodates the industry’s diverse business models.

Scott Gottlieb, M.D., is Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Follow Commissioner Gottlieb on Twitter @SGottliebFDA

Ironed Out

By: Vanessa Burrows, Ph.D.

During the early part of the 20th century, the growing scientific knowledge that certain diseases were caused by vitamin and mineral deficiencies sparked public interest in products that touted these substances. But the public had little understanding of this emerging health care field and, as a result, was often easy prey for unscrupulous marketers who used phony claims that their products had therapeutic value.

Vanessa BurrowsOne such charlatan was a man named E. Virgil Neal, whose past schemes included palm-reading and hypnotism performed under the name Xenophon LaMotte Sage; a mail-order health and self-improvement program, which earned him a conviction for mail fraud; and a French cosmetics company that marketed false hair regenerators and bust enhancers.

Operating at the dawn of the modern advertising age, Neal employed a sophisticated and misleading marketing campaign to sell Nuxated Iron pills, which included iron and nux vomica, a derivative of the strychnine tree, which is highly toxic to humans and other animals. Beginning in 1917, Neal’s advertisements used celebrity endorsements that touted the product’s invigorating and strength-building qualities, promising to alleviate “that tired feeling.” However, the pills contained so little iron that their health impact was questionable, and so much strychnine that, in at least one case, they caused the fatal poisoning of a young boy.

Neal’s fraudulence was exposed by the American Medical Association and journalists in the early 1920s, but FDA was unable to prosecute him because the misbranding provisions of the 1906 Pure Food and Drugs Act did not outlaw misleading promotional material of the type that Neal distributed. Neal’s product actually contained some iron, albeit negligible amounts, and only made therapeutic claims in promotional materials. It wasn’t until 1944, after the passage of the 1938 Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, when FDA was able to take action against the product on new types of misbranding grounds, which forbid, among other things, misrepresenting the quantity of ingredients contained in the product.

Today, FDA continues to play a critical role in protecting consumers from fraudulent, adulterated, and misbranded products like Nuxated Iron.

We hope you enjoy your visit to the History Vault.

Vanessa Burrows, Ph.D., is an FDA Historian

In Forum and On Farms, FDA and Partners Work to Harvest Agreement on Water Issues

By: Samir Assar, Ph.D.

A two-day summit on the topic of agricultural water, followed by farm tours organized by FDA’s Produce Safety Network (PSN), illustrate FDA’s collaborative approach to implementing provisions of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

The Produce Safety Rule under FSMA includes standards for the microbial quality and testing of agricultural water that comes in direct contact with the harvestable portion of produce. In response to stakeholder concerns that these standards may be too complex to understand and implement, FDA is exploring ways to simplify them while still protecting public health.

That exploration recently took shape in two different ways. My team and I attended an agricultural water summit on February 27 and 28 with hundreds of participants in Covington, Kentucky, and 28 satellite locations across the country to discuss ways to simplify the agricultural water standards. And after the summit, a handful of FDA produce safety experts embarked on a different kind of fact-finding mission – an educational tour of two South Florida farms covered by new FDA regulations.

Both the summit and the farm tours included representatives from government agencies, academia, and the produce industry, along with farmers who must implement the produce rule provisions. Many of the participants know each other and have been working together to leverage strengths and trade knowledge as they cross territory that’s new for all of us.

There was a consensus at the summit that it’s time to agree on next steps. Some want the water standards to be redone; others want to stay with the standards as written but with a lot more interpretive guidance on how to meet them. There were frank discussions during breakout sessions about the challenges presented by the current requirements, specific on-farm hazards of concern and how they translate into food safety risks, and alternate water management strategies that could be used to control these hazards. Outcomes from these group discussions will help inform the decisions that FDA makes on these important issues.

I spoke at the summit about our need for more information about on-farm conditions and water systems. Ongoing dialogue with stakeholders will be crucial as we move forward.

We received feedback that additional clarity on how we arrived at the current agricultural water requirements in the final rule would be helpful, as would be increased communications on the research FDA is funding, particularly for projects involving cooperative monitoring programs. There was also a push for FDA to establish partnerships with other federal agencies that have water quality databases and tools that might be used to alleviate some compliance challenges. Throughout this process, we have been engaging with people who have technical expertise on a variety of relevant issues (for example, produce safety, water microbiology, and water systems). During the summit, we were able to establish connections with more technical experts, and we plan to continue engaging with all of these experts as we consider ways to simplify the standards.

Farm photo

Canals bring water from Lake Okeechobee to the Duda fields, where it reaches the crops through seep irrigation.

These conversations continued as my colleagues in FDA’s Division of Produce Safety joined their counterparts in the public and private sectors on the two Palm Beach County farms on March 1 and 2. In addition to the produce team and colleagues from the agency, those on the tours included representatives of the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association, the University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Science Extension, and state partners from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the Florida Department of Health.

FDA has been putting these educational farm tours together for about a year, having done 117 in 2017 alone. Trevor Gilbert, the PSN representative whose region includes Florida, organized tours of the J&J Family of Farms and the Duda Farm Fresh Foods Facility, both of which began as family farms and grew to become national suppliers of produce. Both use a kind of irrigation unique to Florida’s high water table called the seepage method. The growing fields are intersected by canals that supply the water that is pulled up through a below-surface bed of sand to reach the crop roots. And both farms have staff specifically dedicated to food safety.

At J&J, the visitors were taken through fields of peppers and squash, the latter being cleaned and packed right in the field—in equipment invented on this farm—because of the crop’s sturdiness. The peppers are cleaned and packed in an off-farm facility. As the J&J food safety staff outlined the steps taken there to prevent the contamination of their crops, the main concern expressed about FSMA is a desire that the standards provide enough flexibility to allow room for innovative methods to ensure adequate supplies of water.

Farm photo

Perry Yance, Duda’s Farm Manager, talks to visitors from FDA about the farm’s use of water resources.

The next day, the team traveled to the Duda Farms, which started as a celery farm in 1926 and has staff members who have worked there for decades. Duda’s fields are fed by water that flows down from Lake Okeechobee, its fields laced with canals and pumps to control the water levels. The visitors were taken through fields of celery and radishes, marked by the occasional alligator sunning itself on the edge of a canal. As at J&J, some of the crops—celery in this case—are packed in the field using equipment invented by these farmers. The sentiment expressed here by the food safety team was one that I heard from others at the water summit: It’s time to reach agreement on the water standards and move forward.

Both farms follow food safety standards that preceded FSMA, ones shaped by audits required by retailers. The need to harmonize the requirements of such audits with FSMA is another challenge that has surfaced in discussions with the produce industry.

One of the calls for action that came out of the agricultural water summit was a need for more transparency and communications. That call will be answered in multiple ways, including building new connections through more of these educational farm tours. And the PSN’s team members are based all over the country to provide information and technical assistance.

FDA will continue working with dedicated teams of produce experts to find the right path forward, one that, where possible, makes the standards easier to understand and follow while still producing safe fruits and vegetables for consumers across America and throughout the world.

Samir Assar, Ph.D., is the Director of FDA’s Division of Produce Safety

We’re Committed to Guarding Against the Intentional Adulteration of Food and Implementing the New Rule Efficiently

By: Scott Gottlieb, M.D.

The U.S. food supply is among the safest in the world. But to keep it safe we must recognize that our foods are vulnerable – not just from unintended contamination, but from those who would seek to deliberately do us harm.

Dr. Scott GottliebEnsuring that we’re prepared to minimize the risk of an intentional attack on our food supply is a goal that we share with the food industry and consumers.

The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) charges FDA with addressing the burden of foodborne illness by requiring that producers, importers and distributors of food take systematic steps to prevent contamination. Congress passed FSMA with a view of the unique risks posed by a global food supply. Six of FDA’s seven “foundational rules” for FSMA focus on the safe production, storage, and transport of human and animal food by addressing conventional food safety hazards

But a different reality shapes the seventh rule on Intentional Adulteration. This provision seeks to prevent acts of terrorism meant to harm and kill many people.

Food facilities covered by this rule (both domestic and foreign facilities that export to the United States) are required to implement — for the first time — a food defense plan that identifies vulnerabilities and ways to reduce the risk of intentional adulteration.

Congress directed FDA to focus its efforts to prevent intentional adulteration on the highest risks to the food supply. That’s why the Intentional Adulteration Rule primarily covers large food companies whose products reach many people.

Extensive analysis shows that some of the most significant risks are posed by an attack perpetrated by someone who has legitimate access to a facility, perhaps under the guise of an employee. This is why the new rule asks facilities to focus their efforts on processing activities that — if deliberately attacked by a rogue insider — could potentially result in widespread contamination of products.

FDA is committed to making the implementation of the Intentional Adulteration rule as practical and flexible as possible for the food industry. Even though the initial compliance date for the largest businesses is July 2019, more than a year away, I’m taking steps right now to fully understand stakeholder concerns and challenges, and address them.

As part of this fact-finding process, I recently visited the Nestlé Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream facility in Laurel, Maryland. My FDA colleagues and I were taken on a tour of the facility, from the receiving dock to the production line to the packaging equipment. It was very helpful for me to see, first hand, the processes and practices that Nestlé has in place that could be used to guard against deliberate contamination.

Addressing Misconceptions

Having this kind of direct interaction with stakeholders is important. This is new regulatory territory for both FDA and industry. We need to make sure we implement these new requirements in a way that achieves its public health goal, without creating unnecessary burdens or costs on industry. From my interactions, I’ve come to believe that there may be misconceptions about how we’re expecting the food industry to implement this rule.

I want to use this opportunity to provide more transparency on our work.

Food facilities covered by the rule will be able to choose from a wide range of options to identify and reduce their vulnerabilities. They have the flexibility to tailor individual options that are cost-effective and make sense for each particular facility.

We recognize that many companies have already made significant efforts to reduce their vulnerability in response to terrorism concerns since the attacks of 9/11. These are important steps. And we believe these existing efforts can help food facilities meet many of the intentional adulteration rule requirements.

Existing measures may be in place for reasons related to business, food safety, and food defense. Many current steps companies take can become important parts of a food defense plan to meet the Intentional Adulteration requirements. However, we also know that there are some areas where additional measures will be needed.

We want to make sure these new measures can be implemented in a way that’s the least burdensome while achieving its intended, food protection purpose.

We agree with food companies that the “inherent characteristics” of food production equipment and processes should be considered when conducting a vulnerability assessment. At Nestlé, for example, vats of chocolate with hatches at the ground level can’t be opened without creating a flood of chocolate, which certainly wouldn’t escape notice. Our rules are meant to be practical. In this case, the inherent characteristics of chocolate vats make the ground-level hatches a low area of vulnerability. This means that mitigation steps may not be needed at this point of access.

During discussions with stakeholders, we’ve also heard that some people believe that plants might be required to construct vast enclosures for their equipment, invest in advanced computer systems, or reengineer whole processing lines.

That’s not the case. We want expectations to be clear to industry stakeholders.

We’ve also heard that some companies believe they’ll have to hire more workers for the sole purpose of observing other workers. We don’t believe that’s going to be the case.

Moreover, we’ve also heard concerns that implementing some food defense measures required under the rule may create conditions that negatively impact worker safety, food safety and food quality. During our extensive work with industry to develop the proposed rule, we’ve identified a variety of strategies that are very practical to implement and don’t impact food production or safety of any kind.

I want to be very clear about this point. Facilities will be given enough flexibility in selecting options for mitigation strategies that there should be no conflicts between food defense and food safety. We’ll work with any company that has those concerns.

And make no mistake, food safety is — and will remain — our first priority. In implementing the requirements of the intentional adulteration rule; we don’t want facilities to take any steps taken that could jeopardize food or worker safety.

I’ve also heard concerns expressed about the potential paperwork requirements associated with the rule and costs associated with monitoring the food defense protective measures required in the rule. We’ll provide examples of how to minimize paperwork and templates for recordkeeping so that costs are kept to a minimum.

We also expect that many of the options for monitoring can be incorporated into an employee’s existing responsibilities. And the frequency of monitoring for some strategies can also be kept to a minimum while still assuring the measures are working, thereby reducing costs.

Upcoming Guidance

Part of the feedback that we received during the Nestlé tour was the need for FDA to provide a guidance document to provide clarity on how firms can more easily meet the new requirements. That’s something we’re working on right now. We plan to publish this new guidance document well in advance of the initial compliance date in 2019.

We’ll soon be publishing the first chapters of this three-part draft guidance to focus on important questions that I’ve heard. Our hope is that this guidance will help manufacturers focus on those measures that have a meaningful impact on protecting food from intentional adulteration. We plan to publish the remaining two parts of the guidance this summer. The entire draft guidance will be available for public comment.

The first two installments of the guidance focus on the greatest concerns expressed by the food industry and the requirements that drive costs.

The first installment includes a simple, cost-effective way to identify the most vulnerable parts of the production process. It details numerous ways to guard against deliberate contamination, including some existing and cost-effective measures, as well as additional ways to monitor the operation to make sure that protections are working.

The second installment includes guidance on an additional, detailed, and flexible method to identify a facility’s most vulnerable points.

Finally, the third installment focuses on corrective actions, verifying that the system is working, how to reanalyze the plan and its parts, and record keeping.

Protecting Against an Inside Attacker

Importantly, the guidance will also address measures facilities can take to address the risk of an inside attacker. The rule identifies that the greatest risk comes from an inside attacker rather than from an outsider. The new measures require that the assessment of vulnerabilities must consider the potential threat from within a facility.

While the possibility of an inside attacker is hopefully not likely at a particular facility, we’re not talking about a theoretical danger. The threat landscape for intentional adulteration continues to grow regarding an inside attack even since the rule was finalized in 2016.

To take one vivid example: There was a recent report of a foiled terror plot in the United Kingdom that involved an employee at a food manufacturing plant who had been investigating ways to poison supermarket-ready foods.

FDA has worked on food defense assessments for more than a decade in collaboration with food manufacturers, universities, and government partners — including the intelligence and law enforcement communities. Our interactions with intelligence and law enforcement communities have repeatedly indicated that an inside attacker presents the greatest potential danger.

Some existing, protective measures in food facilities, such as perimeter fencing and general visitor protocols, are focused on thwarting an outside threat. These measures are also important. But they don’t address the full scope of risks, including an inside attacker, that must be considered when identifying a facility’s most vulnerable points.

The guidance document will provide examples of how to protect against an inside attacker using a range of measures that can be adapted to best meet individual facility needs. In many cases, food facilities will be able to leverage their existing protections.

Next Steps

Industry has also asked about the availability of training on these new requirements, both for food facilities and regulators. We’re working on both fronts to create training and technical assistance for food facilities that’s consistent with other FSMA-related training. And we’ll be training both federal and state regulators as well.

I was grateful to meet and learn from the professionals at Nestlé. I’m impressed by their commitment to food safety and food defense. I know that their efforts, and their commitment, reflect the ethic that’s in place at a lot of leading food companies.

We’ll continue to work through the issues raised by food manufacturers covered by the Intentional Adulteration rule. We need to make sure we implement these requirements in a way that’s cost-effective and efficient. Safeguards that are too costly to put into place, or are too hard for firms to adhere to, don’t work. They don’t meet their purpose.

I look forward to continuing to engage personally in this dialogue. Keeping food safe from contamination during production, storage and transport remains a primary focus of the FSMA rules. And food defense is an important component of achieving that goal.

While intentional adulteration is unlikely, a successful attack could have devastating public health consequences. FDA and the food industry are committed to the overarching goal of protecting consumers from these and other risks. I look forward to partnering with industry to ensure that appropriate measures are in place to give us all confidence that the food supply is as safe as possible from hazards of all kinds.

Scott Gottlieb, M.D., is the Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration