Last week I had the privilege of participating in the first Produce Marketing Association “Issues Leadership” conference held in Arlington, VA. This meeting for members of the PMA Science and Technology Committee gathered participants from the industry regulatory and academic spheres for a Think Tank style discussion on key topics impacting produce food safety, FSMA implementation and Listeria.
The section on FSMA implementation began with an overview of the implementation strategy being proposed by the FDA from Roberta Wagner (Deputy Director for Regulatory Affairs FDA CFSAN). This was followed by a panel discussion on FSMA and the National Integrated Food Safety System, and an introduction to the challenges and opportunities offered by FSMA implementation. This final presentation was a lead into a pair of parallel breakout groups set up to discuss FSMA Needs and Funding. One group was tasked to discuss FSMA and the National Integrated Food Safety System, while the other focused on FSMA Guidance for Industry and Government Outreach and Training.
Two key takeaway messages from these discussions were that without a full appropriation of funding from Congress, FDA would struggle to fully implement FSMA. It is also likely that state level agencies, such as State Departments of Agriculture and Commodity Marketing Agreements, will have an important role in training, industry guidance and enforcement.
The other focus area for the meeting was on Listeria monocytogenes and Produce Safety Policy. The speakers in this section covered a diverse range of topics including detailed reports on the lessons learned from recent outbreaks at Jensen Farms, Bidart Brothers, and Blue Bell Ice Cream, as well as FDA’s current thinking around Listeria in foods, how Listeria is treated in other regions of the world, and the science of Listeria. The presentations led up to another parallel set of breakout groups that were charged with defining the Knowns around Listeria and produce (preventative controls, monitoring, training and education) and Unknowns (assessing Listeria risks and research needs). Both sessions produced some interesting ideas and generated long lists of future research, the results of which will be likely to have an impact on how to attack Listeria food safety risks in the future.
This was the first PMA Issues Leadership Forum to be held using this model and will be repeated—focusing on other topics—in the future. The findings from last week’s session are being collated and will be used as a part of the road map for PMA’s direction on both topics.
Elis Owens, Ph.D., Director, Technical Services, Birko, can be reached at EOwens@birkocorp.com, 303-289-1090.