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Lester M. Crawford, D.V.M., Ph.D. - 2005 Food Safety Summit

This text contains Dr. Crawford's prepared remarks. It should be used with the understanding that some material may have been added or deleted during actual delivery.

Speech before
2005 Food Safety Summit

Remarks by
Lester M. Crawford, D.V.M., Ph.D.
Acting Commissioner of the FDA

 

March 18, 2005

Good morning, and thank you Steve (Steven Anderson, President and CEO, National Restaurant Association) for your kind introduction. I’d like to thank both you and Mary (Mary Adolf, National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation) for the opportunity to meet with you today and tell you about FDA’s ongoing and future efforts regarding food safety.

I know you have already had a very busy two days of meetings and pre-conference workshops and I am especially pleased that a number of my senior staff from the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition have been able to participate in these sessions with you to discuss the latest science and technology in food security, safety, and quality assurance. This entire meeting really underscores the restaurant and food processing industries’ commitment to improving food safety to protect the public health.

This morning I want to highlight for you just a few major initiatives that FDA has underway that are of crucial importance to your industry.

Obesity Working Group Update

As you may know, in March of 2004, FDA released a comprehensive report from its Obesity Working Group entitled “Calories Count” that outlined a series of key recommendations on ways that FDA could help stem the rising tide of obesity in areas within its authority. This report offered a number of compelling recommendations on how to combat obesity. The recommendations also track closely with our Progress on Priorities report published in September of 2004, in particular our goal of providing consumers with better information to help them lead healthier lives through better nutrition.

The cornerstone of the Obesity Working Group (OWG) report is the idea that America must get back to basics and that “Calories Count.” In other words, there is no substitute for the simple formula that ‘calories in must equal calories out’ in order to control weight. However, achieving that goal is far more complex.

A major recommendation of the OWG report involves initiating an education campaign focused on the “Calories Count” message. FDA recognizes that education is an essential component of efforts to address obesity, and we are focusing our education strategies to influence behavior, as well as impart knowledge, in the context of healthy eating choices for consumers. Because the obesity epidemic is particularly alarming in children, we are focusing our education efforts towards youth.

American consumers now spend approximately 46 percent of their total food budget on food consumed outside of the home, and these foods account for a significant portion of total calories consumed. So, as a part of the education campaign to help consumers make more informed dietary choices, FDA has urged you, the restaurant industry, to launch a nation-wide, voluntary, point-of-sale nutrition information campaign for customers, to include information on calories.

In response to input from many of you, that this information is available to your customers for the asking, FDA also encourages consumers to routinely request this nutrition information when eating out. We are pleased that a number of your members have already stepped up to the challenge to provide this information to consumers and we encourage others to do likewise.

Among the recommendations addressing the multifaceted issue of obesity, FDA’s Calories Count report recommended that FDA engage a third-party facilitator to conduct a national policy dialogue to further address the issues of away-from-home foods and childhood and adolescent overweight.

I know many of you here today are very interested in this so I want to give you an update on the status of this dialogue. In June 2004, we signed a contract with the Keystone Policy Center to hold these dialogues. Over the summer Keystone interviewed more than 80 stakeholders including government, industry, academia, consumer groups, health professionals and others, to explore the dimensions of the scope of the dialogue.

As a result of these interviews and further discussion with FDA, the scope for the dialogue was refocused on away-from-home foods. This includes not only foods consumed in a restaurant setting, but also prepared foods purchased in other settings such as cafeterias, supermarket deli counters, and convenience stores where nutrient content information is not routinely provided with the foods when purchased.

Since December 2004, Keystone has been working with an 11-member planning group, representing various stakeholders, including FDA. The group has been helping Keystone refine objectives and plan the first of what will hopefully be three plenary dialogue sessions. The purpose of this forum will be to consider what can be done, given what is known, to support consumers’ ability to manage energy intake with respect to preventing undue weight gain and obesity within the context of away-from-home foods.

The first dialogue session will take place on April 26-27, in Washington D.C., with approximately 40 invited dialogue participants. We are hoping to have additional dialogues in July and in September or October of this year.

We look forward to participating in the Keystone dialogue with many stakeholders, including representatives from the restaurant industry and food processing industry, with the goal of both advancing knowledge about any relationships between consumption of away-from-home foods and overweight/obesity, and identifying promising opportunities for action.

Food Safety
I think most of you in this room this morning understand that food safety and food security are inextricably linked. In both cases we must start with a basis of sound science. Food defense is really just an enhancement of the many things that we already do to promote food safety. Things like good agricultural practices (GAPs), hazard analysis critical control points (HACCP), good manufacturing practices (GMPs), and surveillance.

I know you are having two session today with CFSAN senior staff on the proposed new food GMPs, so I won’t spend much time on those this morning other than to let you know that back in September after the public meetings on how the GMPs should be updated I had asked CFSAN to produce a white paper on food cGMP modernization that summarized the public comments and listed opportunities for cGMP modernization. The draft white paper has been completed and is currently undergoing review.

As everyone in this room today is well aware, food GMPs are an important part of the nation’s control over food safety problems. Processing failures from a lack of the application of modern GMP controls are a major cause of food product recalls. With our increased knowledge and understanding of important food pathogens such as Listeria monocytogenes, we now know that in many cases, these pathogens can be adequately controlled only by the implementation of appropriate GMPs by food-processing establishments. The same is true for reducing food-borne illness from pathogens on fresh produce. We also know that cross-contamination of food products with food allergens can be prevented through the implementation of appropriate GMPs in food processing.

Food Defense
Now, let me update you on FDA’s activities in securing the nation’s food supply. This responsibility is one of the Agency’s highest priorities and one that we share with our colleagues at USDA and CDC. It is also one that we can’t accomplish without the close cooperation and collaboration of key representatives of the food industry such as those of you present here today. In fact, I want to commend the conference organizers and sponsors as well as the participants for your initiative in designing and executing the food security and bioterrorism tabletop exercises and simulation drills that you had on Wednesday.

As many of you know, FDA has developed both an operational risk management strategy and what we refer to as the CARVER process to assess the vulnerability of all segments of the food system. With CARVER, we break a particular food system into its smallest pieces (nodes) in the farm to table continuum. We then analyze each node and identify the “critical nodes” that are most likely targets for terrorist attack. Identification of the “critical nodes” then leads to development of countermeasures to reduce the risk at these nodes.

The food Industry has demonstrated tremendous leadership in working with FDA to assess individual commodity production and delivery vulnerabilities. To date we have conducted C ARVER analyses with the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA), the Food Processors Assoc. (NFPA), the Juice Products Association (JPA), and the Dairy Foods Association (IDFA). These industry groups have truly been leaders and examples of this partnership to improve the security of the nation’s food supply.

During the fall of 2004, FDA conducted a food security surveillance assignment to enhance and test preparedness for the possibility of a future specified threat involving a FDA-regulated food product. We briefed NFPA and other members of the Alliance for Food Safety and Security on our findings. Once again, we had excellent cooperation and assistance from industry especially, bottled water, dairy, produce and food processors.

To help further reduce the risk of an attack on the food supply, FDA and USDA have joined forces to provide a free online food defense and security-awareness training program. The on-line course is being hosted by FDA at our ORA University website.

Food Allergen Labeling
Finally, let me just mention briefly where we are in terms of implementing the recently approved Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004, also known as the Food Allergy Bill. This is a piece of legislation that will help millions of Americans who suffer from food allergies by providing them with additional information on the food label to assist in identifying food allergens that may be a concern. The legislation requires that food labels identify in plain language if a product contains any of eight major food allergens: milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, wheat, peanuts, and soybeans. These eight allergens cause about 90% of food allergic reactions.

FDA has been working cooperatively as a member of the Conference for Food Protection’s Food Allergens Committee to evaluate the Food Code and determine if additional allergen information is necessary. This committee includes members from the food industry, consumer groups, trade associations such as the National Restaurant Association, federal, state, and local regulatory officials, academia, and interested consumers. As a result of the work of this committee the following information has been added to the upcoming 2005 Food Code:

 

  • A definition for “major food allergen”, which is consistent with the definition contained in the legislation
  • A new sub-section under ‘Demonstration of Knowledge” specifying that the person in charge in a food establishment should have an understanding of the foods identified as major food allergens and the symptoms that major food allergens could cause in a sensitive individual;
  • Additional background information on food allergens

FDA is currently developing the petition process for the labeling of these food allergen ingredients as well as developing an on-line food allergens training course for industry and regulatory personnel. We have also provided 3,000 CDs entitled “Food Allergy Training Guide for Restaurants and Food Services” that were supplied by the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN).

In closing, I want to commend and thank the organizers and sponsors of this conference for the leadership you have demonstrated in working with FDA to improve the safety and security of our food supply.

I look forward to continued close collaboration with you in the coming months to help us achieve our goal of empowering consumers to improve their health through better nutrition.

Thank you.