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.

We’re Partnering with Mexico to Keep Foods Safe

By: Michael R. Taylor 

En Español

Food safety is an issue that crosses borders. The reality of this global marketplace is that consumers, industry and governments worldwide are in this together. 

Deputy Commissioner Michael Taylor (on r) and Dr. Ricardo Cavazos, General Director of Economic and International Affairs at the Comisión Federal para la Protección contra Riesgos Sanitarios (COFEPRIS)

With that in mind, my team and I traveled to Mexico City on Oct. 29, 30 and 31 to discuss the rules that FDA has proposed this year to help ensure the safety of both domestic and imported foods. 

We said at the beginning of our efforts to implement the 2011 FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) that we would send FDA delegations to Canada, Mexico, Europe and China to strengthen partnerships with officials there to help accomplish our safety goals. Working with our government partners in the U.S. and abroad is important in making sure that implementation is successful. This trip was the last of these journeys, and it was a great experience. 

Why is a partnership with Mexico important? Because it is one of the United States’ top trading partners. A lot of the produce we eat in the U.S. is grown there, including fruits and vegetables that would otherwise be hard to find in the winter months. 

What we learned in meetings with SENASICA and COFEPRIS – two key food safety agencies in the Mexican government – is that we’re all on the same page when it comes to food safety. We share with Enrique Sanchez Cruz, director general of SENASICA, Mikel Arriola, federal commissioner of COFEPRIS, and their able staffs a commitment to protect our citizens from the contaminated foods that cause so many preventable illnesses each year. 

And there is much we can do to help each other. For example, our counterparts in Mexico have a great deal of data to share based on microbiological sampling of foods and inspections. And, like us, they base their food-safety priorities on risk: What are the greatest potential hazards? We came away with a much deeper understanding of their work in this area. 

One of the key messages we got from our Mexican colleagues was that they are eager and committed to working with us to implement FSMA, and this motivates us to take our partnership to a new level. The benefits will be mutual, as FSMA and Mexico’s own food safety initiatives promise to elevate standards and improve practices on both sides of the border. 

At a public listening session on our FSMA proposals attended by representatives of major commodity groups, the sentiments were much the same. They want to be engaged with us in this important work. 

We envision partnerships with our foreign counterparts as being multi-faceted, including data sharing, recognition of inspection reports, multilateral sharing and acceptance of laboratory methods, and training of government and industry on U.S. food safety requirements, and where appropriate, cooperating under trade agreements. 

We know food safety is more a journey than a destination, and the road we are on with Mexico will have its bumps and seem long at times. But, thankfully, we are on the road together, and we will get there. 

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

FDA Collaborates with Mexico to Improve Food-Safety Testing

By: Carl Sciacchitano

En Español

FDA and public health officials in Mexico are working together to increase the capacity and capabilities of laboratories used to test the safety of foods.

In January, 2012, FDA scientists met with Mexico’s National Service of Health, Food Safety and Agro-Alimentary Quality (SENASICA) officials to better understand laboratory operations, practices, methods and quality assurance. Our scientists were also able to visit the SENASICA laboratories and discuss opportunities that would enhance laboratory collaboration and capacity building efforts. 

FDA’s 2011 special report, “Pathway to Global Product Safety and Quality,” states that the agency will partner with nations around the world to enhance global product safety and quality. Additionally, FDA recently released its International Food Safety Capacity-Building Plan that addresses both the acceptance of laboratory methods across the international community and the exchange of information on current and new laboratory methods.

In Mexico, the key objectives of this FDA/SENASICA collaboration include improving communications and laboratory capacity, consulting with SENASICA on the development, validation and implementation of testing methods, and participation in proficiency programs.

To reach our joint goals, the FDA/SENASICA Laboratory Capacity Collaboration Program (LCCP) has been established to enhance our collective ability to strengthen laboratory capacity and capabilities in effective and sustainable ways. 

LCCP participation includes our experts from FDA’s Office of International Programs in Mexico City, Office of Regulatory Affairs (ORA), and Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN). Working with representatives from the SENASICA National Laboratories, these experts formed a cohesive unit and prioritized key leveraging opportunities to enhance public health through the LCCP. Highlights of LCCP’s work include:

  • In March 2012, FDA’s Northeast Regional Laboratory (NRL) hosted a Mexican delegation of laboratory experts representing SENASICA’s three main laboratories. NRL provided an overview of FDA’s food testing laboratory, highlighting microbiological and chemical (food and drug) disciplines. NRL scientists shared methods currently used by FDA for the analysis of microbiological and chemical contaminants in foods under FDA’s jurisdiction. A portion of the visit was devoted to discussion and observation of the equipment, laboratory environment and methods used to perform these analyses. Communication channels were created to enhance collaboration.   
  • This effort between FDA and SENASICA scientists was very timely as SENASICA is pursuing efforts to strengthen its laboratory infrastructure for microbiological testing.  The information shared by our FDA scientists directly impacted SENASICA’s early thinking and understanding, resulting in the development of a state-of-the art microbiological testing laboratory. This laboratory will monitor the safety conditions of food during production, processing and packaging through the microbiological analysis of water, fresh produce (fruits and vegetables) and environmental samples of risk areas. In December 2012, we participated in the laboratory opening ceremony in Mexico City. The opening of this laboratory highlights the success of the LCCP efforts.  
  • Mexico’s Sinaloa state lab and FDA provided a training course for SENASICA microbiologists in December 2012 on Pulse-Field-Gel-Electrophoresis (PFGE) and serological techniques. Both techniques are staple methods utilized for the identification and traceback of bacterial strains – critical information that often augments foodborne outbreak investigations. The course was held in SENASICA’s new pathogen detection laboratory.

In 2013, our governments’ goal is to build on the progress from 2012 to enhance public health protection. Sharing information on best laboratory practices and collaborative efforts in method development and validation studies headline some of our key objectives for 2013.

Carl Sciacchitano is a Senior Advisor for Scientific International Affairs in FDA’s Office of International Programs