Weaknesses in food safety policy, organization and communications were all displayed during this summer's outbreak of Salmonella Saintpaul, according to a report released today by the Produce Safety Project (PSP), an initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts at Georgetown University.
The report, Breakdown: Lessons to Be Learned from the 2008 Salmonella Saintpaul Outbreak, represents an in-depth review of the public record of last summer's Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak that caused illnesses in more than 1,400 people across the country.
Congressional leaders and produce industry representatives have called for public health officials to conduct an analysis of the public health system's response to the outbreak. The report is an effort to frame questions that such a review should consider. In particular, the report focuses on: food safety policy; the public health system's organization, capacity and effectiveness in the outbreak response; and risk communications with the media and the public.
"Many of these problems have been identified for years by expert body after expert body," said Jim O'Hara, director of PSP. "If we pass up this opportunity to learn from this most recent outbreak, we will keep repeating the same costly mistakes -for public health and industry alike."
For the report and comprehensive timeline, PSP reviewed all of the public statements and Web site postings of the CDC and FDA; the transcripts of the FDA/CDC media calls; press releases and Web site postings by state public- health departments and industry trade associations; and media coverage from around the country. In addition, PSP staff attended and monitored the oversight hearings held by Congressional committees.
"The Obama Administration should make the establishment of mandatory, enforceable safety standards for fresh produce a food safety priority and take steps to fix our broken outbreak response system," O'Hara said. "Both actions will go a long way toward safeguarding public health and protecting farmers."
The Produce Safety Project at Georgetown University seeks the establishment by the Food and Drug Administration of mandatory and enforceable safety standards for domestic and imported fresh produce, from farm to fork. Our families need to have confidence that federal food safety regulation is based on prevention, scientifically sound risk assessment and management, and coordinated integrated data collection.