Rick Biros
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In Defense of FSMA

By Rick Biros
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Rick Biros

The New York Times reports that “hundreds of American children were poisoned last year. Records show how, time and time again, the contamination went unnoticed.” This is misleading.

The lead (pardon the pun) headline in Tuesday’s New York Times digital edition is “Lead-Tainted Applesauce Sailed Through Gaps in Food-Safety System: Hundreds of American children were poisoned last year. Records show how, time and again, the contamination went unnoticed.

The headline is misleading. The article says the cinnamon originated in Sri Lanka and was shipped to Ecuador, where it was ground into a powder. It was probably there, the FDA has said, that the cinnamon was likely contaminated with lead chromate, a powder that is sometimes illegally used to tint or bulk up spices.

The ground cinnamon was then sold, bagged, and sold again to a company called Austrofood, which blended it into applesauce and shipped pouches to the U.S. It was sold under the brand name WanaBana and various generic store labels.

The article states that Austrofood was last inspected five years ago, implying that this is the gap in the Food Safety System.

The authors did not look into the reasons why there are reductions in FDA inspections, which by the way, the FDA is ramping up again. FDA has seen huge budget cuts year after year reducing its ability to hire new inspectors. The Covid-19 pandemic reduced the number of inspectors and inspections dramatically.

The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) is not perfect, but it is a huge step up from the past. The new powers and resulting responsibilities for FDA personnel, combined with the public’s expectation for the agency to do more (to protect the public) but with less resources must be part of the discussion as we dissect contamination events.


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