By: Robert M. Califf, M.D., Commissioner of Food and Drugs
You might hear on the news or through your social media feed about a food recall, and wonder if the food you eat is safe? In fact, the U.S. has one of the safest food supplies in the world, even though the news usually does not include this reassuring fact.
The Economist regularly updates a report that measures the Global Food Security Index, which considers food affordability, availability, quality and safety, and sustainability and adaptation, across 113 countries. The U.S. has moved up 25 positions for the food safety indicator since 2012 and is ranked a joint first for the food safety indicator in 2022.
The Landmark FDA Food Safety Modernization Act
The FDA has accomplished a tremendous amount in the last 10 years, working with the broad ecosystem of states, territories, local governments, tribes and the industry to make the American food supply as safe as it’s ever been. The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act was a game-changer for how we regulate our food supply. Since its passage in 2011, we have worked diligently to implement the landmark law and modernize our food safety regulatory oversight and capabilities.
We have also developed and used advanced technology to reduce foodborne illness cases, enhancing not only our response to outbreaks but also our surveillance of foodborne pathogens. With the launch of our GenomeTrakr Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS) Network, studies show that for each additional 1,000 pathogen sequences added to the database, there is a reduction of approximately six illnesses per year associated with that pathogen. Since adopting WGS for Listeria outbreaks, for example, the median number of Listeria illnesses per outbreak has declined by 50%.
Foodborne Illness Associated with Major Pathogens
The epidemiology of foodborne illness is an imprecise science, but best estimates indicate that the incidence of foodborne illness associated with major pathogens has generally remained flat in recent years, perhaps driven by the increasing complexity of the system and improved rates of detection. However, we have made measurable progress in certain areas. A recent study looking at the impact of the FDA’s rulemaking on Salmonella Enteritidis in shell eggs found that the egg safety rule was effective in reducing the number of Salmonella illnesses and outbreaks caused by egg-containing products by over 10,000 illnesses per year.
The agency also did extensive work with academia and the states in the Delmarva peninsula to address the number of outbreaks associated with Salmonella from tomatoes and cucumbers. The last documented cucumber outbreak from that area was in 2014 and the last tomato outbreak was 2015. Efforts like this form the basis for the FDA’s ongoing work on the leafy green action plan and the prevention strategies for onions, enoki and wood ear mushrooms, and infant formula.
You can find out much, much more about all the ways we’ve been strengthening food safety at FDA.gov/food, and I’ll soon provide more details on how we’re reducing exposure to contaminants in food. Catch up with you next time.