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David A. Kessler, M.D. - Food Safety News Conference

Remarks
by
David A. Kessler, M.D.

Commissioner of Food and Drugs
Food Safety News Conference

Washington, D.C.
January 21, 1994
Thank you, Madame Secretary.

Today's announcement represents an enormous opportunity to reduce the incidence of food-borne illness in the United States.

It provides the opportunity to demonstrate, for seafood, an innovative food safety system with the potential to transform the way we approach food safety.

It is an opportunity we must not pass up.

The system we are talking about has something of an "Ugly Duckling" acronym: it's called "HAH-SIPP." For those of you who aren't food safety experts, let me give you the name in full: Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points.

But despite this name, it provides an elegant, up-to-date system for guarding against food-borne illnesses.

The HACCP system draws its strength from one simple principle: the notion that the best way to provide safe, high-quality food is to build qualtiy into the product during the manufacturing process. Under the current system, food products are simply inspected for quality after the fact -- which is ultimately a less effective method.

This proposed way of approaching food safety identifies potential problems -- the hazards -- up front. It's simply more efficient, focusing on fixing things before they break.

HACCP also offers the considerable advantage of matching the degree of oversight and regulation to the degree of potential risk.

Let me provide an example. Low acid canned foods, such as mushrooms, are particularly susceptible to contamination with botulism. That's because a low-acid environment doesn't kill the bacterium that produces the deadly but odorless and tasteless toxin.

Low acid canned foods have been protected by this system since the late 1970's. The potential risk is high, but the HACCP protections have worked.

The system works because it depends on continuous monitoring of production, and on meticulous record keeping.

Continuous monitoring is essential, because it allows producers to detect a problem immediately, stop production, and correct whatever has gone wrong.

Careful record keeping is crucial, because it allows manufacturers -- and the FDA -- to pinpoint when and where the problem occurred.

What's more, the HACCP system can be tailored to market segments (such as low-acid canned foods) and even individual product lines.

Let me emphasize one point. Today's proposals for seafood represent an added layer of protection. The new system will gradually replace the current seafood safety program.

As Secretary Shalala has just noted, seafood HACCP could be only the beginning. These science-based principles could ultimately be extended and refined, so that one day they might provide American consumers with comprehensive insurance against all food-borne illnesses.

FDA has already begun a dialogue with the food industry. We expect to issue proposals that would eventually lead to one, single, domestic food safety system based on the principles of HACCP.

And we are committed to working with our counterparts at the state and local levels to establishing the provisions of the new model food code across the board. This new code provides state-of- the-art guidelines for all retail establishments that handle and serve food. The model code brings the latest research and thinking to bear on food safety problems at the retail level, and it reflects the retail food industry as it currently exists.

Today's seafood initiative should largely resolve an ongoing debate among consumers, the academic community, and Capitol Hill about the safety of seafood. It enjoys a broad base of support among those groups and the seafood industry.

It's time to apply that system to all seafood products.