The produce industry takes food safety seriously and will use the recent report on foodborne illness to spur additional research and practical applications to advance public health, according to Bryan Silbermann, president and CEO of the Produce Marketing Association.
Silbermann spoke in response to the release of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) new paper, "Attribution of Foodborne Illnesses, Hospitalizations, and Deaths to Food Commodities by Using Outbreak Data," United States, 1998-2008. In that report, fresh produce accounted for "nearly half" (46 percent) of foodborne illness in the United States from 1998-2008. "PMA considers the CDC report as an opportunity to identify new targeted research and learning to make our industry and the resources PMA creates more effective. That approach to continuous learning about food safety is part of PMA's commitment to protect consumers and the industry alike."
CDC's historical data is important to the produce industry, Silbermann said. "In fact, CDC has other reports that indicate illness from many foodborne pathogens has declined significantly over time." Comparing 2011 to 1996-98, CDC found that illness from E. coli is down 42 percent and listeria is down 35 percent. The incidence from salmonella stayed about the same. "Regardless of past successes in reducing foodborne illness, we cannot lose sight of the overall picture: One illness from fresh produce is one too many," Silbermann said.
PMA and its members have invested millions of dollars to continually improve the safety of fresh produce, said Joe Pezzini, chairman of PMA's Produce Safety, Science and Technology Committee, and COO of Ocean Mist Farms. The Center for Produce Safety (CPS) was established in 2007 by PMA and others. "CPS provides open access to actionable produce safety information. Best practices are developed and shared throughout the industry to raise the safety bar for all."
Silbermann noted: "In addition, we work with government to further public health and safety and as a means to improve industry practices. Our work with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) brings that agency the practical realities of our industry, especially now as FDA implements the Food Safety Modernization Act. However, we are not waiting for the new rules to advance safety in our industry. That is our ongoing day-to-day work and obligation."
In this report, CDC frequently reiterates that consumers should eat more fruits and vegetables and that a healthful diet is important. Silbermann stressed: "This advice has not changed for decades--your grandmother knew it then as we do now. However, what has changed are food industry safety practices, which evolve with the latest science and technology advances. We urge every member of the produce industry to have a robust and risk-based food safety program to protect the public and their businesses."
Pezzini added that the industry incorporates those swiftly as soon as they are proven. "Food safety is the most important thing we do. Our commitment to consumer health and safety is unwavering," he said.
"We put our money where our mouth is in terms of CPS research and practical application of safety programs," Silbermann said. "And we recognize, every day, that this effort will never be finished. For consumers to benefit, as CDC says, from diets full of fruits and vegetables, we must retain their confidence by safeguarding those very fruits and vegetables."