Policy and Position Statements

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Integrated Food Safety System Position Statement

I. ASTHO Supports the Implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act 

The Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) supports the implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and its overhaul of the nation’s food safety system. Maintaining a healthy, safe food supply is critical to the health of our communities, and requires a system of oversight for how food is grown, transported, processed, prepared, and consumed. The FSMA defines the roles of the government agencies responsible for the Healthy People 2020 goal to improve food safety and reduce foodborne illness. FSMA requires a new commitment to interagency coordination for a food safety system that integrates activities to prevent foodborne illness and responses to foodborne illness when outbreaks occur.

ASTHO understands that implementing the largest overhaul of the food safety system, the first time in 70 years, will take time and require additional resources. The efforts to improve the food safety system must recognize the critical role that state and territorial health agencies play in protecting the health of the nation. With limited resources, states and territories are responsible for many of the regulatory activities for preventing foodborne illness and have essential roles in responding to such outbreaks through environmental investigations, epidemiological investigations, and laboratory activities. 

It is ASTHO’s position that national efforts be made to integrate the food safety system to develop a sustainable, prevention-oriented infrastructure. Integration of the food safety system must place a priority focus on improving state and territorial capacity, including federal line item funding, and enhancing capabilities necessary to more fully protect the health of the community from the hazards associated with contaminated or adulterated food products.

II. ASTHO Recommendations for Integrating the Food Safety System:

In recognition of the immediate need to enhance state and territorial food safety capacity and integrate state agencies into a comprehensive food safety system, ASTHO recommends the following policy actions:

1. Build state and territorial capacity to protect the community against foodborne disease.

Streamline and bolster resource allocation to support capacity building of state food safety programs: There is no single source of funding for state and territorial food safety activities. ASTHO supports the institution of core sustainable funding mechanisms to help states strengthen their food protection infrastructure, ensure capacity and consistency across the states, and integrate their activities to better prevent, detect, and respond to foodborne illness.

Support and strengthen state-level food safety integration activities: The organizational complexity and fragmentation that impedes food safety program performance at the federal level is often mirrored at the state level. State-level food safety responsibilities are varied and spread across agencies such as the health, agriculture and consumer protection departments. Federal agencies should support the integration of state-level food safety activities by designating funding, technical guidance, and resources that ensure timely and effective outbreak reporting and investigation, and improve cross-sector coordination during foodborne investigations.

Enhance workforce training and credentialing: State and local food safety professionals make up the principal governmental workforce that ensures safe food. State food safety professionals come from a diverse array of disciplines and include inspectors and regulators, epidemiologists, environmental health professionals, laboratorians, and many other public health practitioners. ASTHO encourages standardized credentials and training for state and local food safety inspection staff as well as standardized recommendations for appropriate staffing levels for state and local food safety programs. Standardizing recommendations, training new and existing professionals, and integrating food safety practices will lead to a more prepared workforce ready to implement an increasingly science- and risk-based system.

2. Facilitate communication and coordination among agencies responsible for food safety.

Facilitate interagency information sharing: The food safety system is diverse and spreads across multiple agencies with varying responsibilities and authority, which can sometimes lead to information sharing gaps. Delays in sharing food safety inspection, recall, and security information has hampered the critical role public health agencies play in collecting and responding to food-safety and defense concerns within their jurisdictions. Policy efforts should focus on creating timely and efficient communications and encourage information sharing between and among all agencies. ASTHO encourages federal agencies to share non-public information, such as deliberative and confidential commercial information, with their state counterparts through mechanisms such as commissioning and information sharing agreements.

Adopt a Health in All Policies approach: With today’s far-reaching and complex food supply chain, there are several sectors and stakeholders outside of public health involved in food safety, leading to an increasing need to find more effective solutions to better protect consumers by preventing food contamination. A Health in All Policies approach for food safety should be used to help develop a clear mandate for coordination and engagement with food safety related stakeholders inside and outside of government.

Support system-wide use of CIFOR guidelines: The Council to Improve Foodborne Outbreak Response (CIFOR) Guidelines for Foodborne Disease Outbreak Response were developed to aid government agencies responsible for preventing and managing foodborne disease.1 The guidelines aim to enhance coordination between federal, state, and local agencies to better prevent, detect, and respond to foodborne outbreaks. Resources should help states and territories adopt, implement, and improve these guidelines.

3. Establish uniform food safety standards to prevent foodborne illness.

Collaboratively set uniform food safety standards: Federal agencies should work collaboratively with states to develop uniform food safety standards to ensure a consistent, science-based level of public health protection nationwide. This would build on the work of the Model Food Code and insure consistent and integrated food safety inspection activities across the states. A collaborative process of standard setting will aim to preserve state legal authorities. The collaborative process of standard setting should also preserve, to the fullest extent possible, state and territorial legal authorities and the rights of sovereign states and territories in the protection of the public’s health.

Enforce standards jointly among agencies: Federal, state, and local agencies should work collaboratively to enforce these standards to ensure the same level of protection irrespective of the geographic location in the country.

III. Background

Maintaining a healthy, safe food supply is critical to the health of the community. It is a fundamental responsibility of government (federal, state, and local) to ensure that the food people consume is safe from intentional or unintentional contamination. State and territorial health agencies face substantial challenges both in meeting their immediate food safety responsibilities and fulfilling their potential as integral parts of the national food safety system. They work through diverse and often fragmented organizational structures and under an assortment of laws.

One in six people living in the United States is sickened by foodborne diseases each year, resulting in an estimated 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths annually.2 The estimated cost of food-borne illnesses in the U.S. is $152 billion annually, inclusive of medical costs and lost productivity.3 Several incidents over the past years have indicated a failure in the food safety system and have led to a reduction in public confidence in governmental agencies and their abilities to keep the public safe. Incidents such as large outbreaks of salmonella Heidelberg infections associated with chicken, hepatitis A infections associated with pomegranate seeds, and the listeria outbreak linked to cantaloupes have crossed many state boundaries and sickened thousands of people. These situations clearly demonstrate that the current food safety system is in need of serious review and improvement for this nation to truly meet the food safety threats of the 21st century. This matter is further compounded by the complexities of modern food production technologies and processes, consumer demands and preference, and the explosion of global commerce.


Approval History:

Environmental Health Policy Committee Review: December 2014

Board of Director Review and Approval: March 2015

Position Expires: March 2018

ASTHO policies are broad statements of enduring principles related to particular policy areas that are used to guide ASTHO’s actions and external communications.


Notes

  1. Council to Improve Foodborne Outbreak Response. Second Edition of the CIFOR Guidelines for Foodborne Disease Outbreak Response. 2014. Available at http://www.cifor.us/documents/CIFOR%20Industry%20Guidelines/CIFOR-Industry-Guideline.pdf.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2011 Estimates of Foodborne Illness in the United States. December 2010. Publication CS218786-A. Available at www.cdc.gov/foodborneburden.
  3. Produce Safety Project. Health- Related Costs from Foodborne Illness in the United States. March 2010. Available at http://www.producesafetyproject.org.