FDA failed over salmonella outbreak, says new chief

By Rory Harrington

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Nutrition

The recent outbreak of salmonella in the United States caused by contaminated peanut butter represented a “failure” by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the agency’s new commissioner said this week as she took up her post.

Margaret Hamburg said the nationwide food scare, which sickened around 700 and was linked to nine deaths, was indicative of a systemic failure in the US food safety regime rather than being merely a “sanitation problem at one troubled facility”.

Dr Hamburg said: “It reflected a failure of the FDA and its regulatory partners to identify risk and to establish and enforce basic preventive controls.”

The FDA head was also critical of scores of food manufacturers that failed “to adequately monitor the safety of ingredients purchased from this facility”.

Scrutiny of nutritional claims

Writing in the New England Journal of Medicine with her deputy, Joshua Sharfstein, she indicated the regime surrounding the scrutiny of nutritional claims of food products would be tightened up.

“The CDC and the FDA should also work closely to identify areas of potential progress in nutrition. A laissez-faire approach to nutritional claims can lead to more confusion than understanding,”​ said Dr Hamburg.

‘Working with industry and others, the FDA can support efforts to educate the public about nutrition and promote more healthful foods.”

Restore credibility

She declared that under their stewardship the nation should expect a "modern food-safety system focused on prevention of contamination".

Dr Hamburg has pledged to restore the beleaguered agency’s credibility following a string of food contamination scandals in the US. Underlining this commitment, she said the FDA should deliver as a public-health agency, and not only serve as a body that helps the food and drug industry bring products to market.

The FDA had “struggled in recent years to handle controversies involving the safety of regulated product, opening the door to legitimate question from the media, the public, and Congress about whether the public interest is being served,”​ she said.

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