Bioterrorism rule ineffective in salmonella outbreak

Published 11 July 2008

Rules and regulations passed in the wake of 9/11 were supposed to tighten monitoring and tracking food items, so an outbreak of food-borne illness could be quickly traced to its source; food supply-chain practices make these rules and regulations difficult to implement

A Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rule adopted under a bioterrorism law was supposed to help officials trace threats to the food supply. The rule requires importers, processors, and distributors to keep track of where they buy produce and where it goes — keeping records for one step forward and one step back in the supply chain, the New York Times reports. The problem, though, is that many food handlers repack produce, mixing together items from several sources. The repacking makes it difficult to trace contamination to the source. Some consumer groups and lawmakers are calling for changes to allow tracking of food from the point of origin to sale. David Acheson, the FDA’s associate commissioner for foods, told the Times the agency does not have the authority to implement such a regulation, but former FDA commissioner David Kessler said the agency has the authority but doesn’t have the “impetus” to do it.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now says hot peppers and cilantro are possible sources of the salmonella outbreak that has sickened more than 1,000 people, the Washington Post reports. Tomatoes are still considered potential culprits as well.