Tag Archives: Janie Dubois

Janie Dubois, Ph.D., Laboratory Manager, Joint Institute for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (JIFSAN)
In the Food Lab

APEC Food Safety Cooperation Forum

By Janie Dubois, Ph.D.
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Janie Dubois, Ph.D., Laboratory Manager, Joint Institute for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (JIFSAN)

Efforts are ongoing in many regions to improve food safety; while the objective is obviously linked to public health outcomes, it is the business of food trade that really drives the funding for these activities. The reasoning is pretty simple: If efforts are made to meet the food safety requirements established based on risk (usually by developed nations) in order to enter or stay in trade markets, then the domestic population also benefits from safer foods. It is a win-win situation.

The Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Food Safety Cooperation Forum (FSCF) drives one such effort. The FSCF was established in 2007 to encourage the use of international food safety standards and recognized best practices to improve public health and facilitate trade among APEC member economies. The Forum also promotes information sharing and capacity building activities to accelerate the adoption of these standards and practices. The Forum is currently co-chaired by Australia and China. 

Why should we be involved in these initiatives? It is clear that it benefits the health of the U.S. population to improve the safety of food in the entire APEC region because we import it with minimal inspection (at least until FSMA rules come into effect). The U.S. imports just under $25 billion worth of fresh and processed fruits and vegetables, snack foods and red meats from the region. Once again, if we help the region adopt international standards, it also benefits their domestic population. Economically, we also benefit because the trade goes both ways and the region received over 70 percent of U.S. agricultural exports with soybeans, red meat, coarse grains and wheat adding up to ~$44.5 billion in 2012. The adoption of international standards reduces the likelihood that economies will impose their own standards, such as maximum limits (MLs) for example, that are not based on risk and may be hard to achieve using recognized good practices; these may be perceive as non-tariff trade barriers or reasons for devaluating crops from certain countries. 

One of the most difficult steps to perform in the establishment of standards for food safety is to assess the risk associated with particular foods for specific populations. Acute response and disease states are easier to spot and link to potential causes, but chronic conditions and responses triggered by combined risk factors are much more challenging, especially when they involve factors that are not food such as underlying diseases, genetic predisposition or environmental exposure. A very large project is active in the APEC FSCF to empower developing economies to perform risk analyses that will support their adoption of standards. Of course, it immediately comes to mind that risk assessment requires access to reliable data, an element that is non-trivial in a developing country environment. How does one measure exposure to a chemical or microbial risk when there are not enough trained analysts, not enough infrastructures or when the tests used are not fit for that purpose? THE APEC FSCF created the Partnership Training Institute Network in 2010 to stimulate a collaborative approach engaging industry, academia and governments to raise the capacity in the region. 

The impact of capacity building activities is often more far-reaching than meets the eye. A better understanding of the health and economic reasons behind international standards favors their adoption in countries that are modifying existing or adopting new standards. In turns, harmonization facilitates trade, trade improves the local economy and economic stability favors better health outcomes for the population. Beyond the big picture, there are very tangible benefits. In my line of work for example, we train laboratory analysts to perform tests in order to enable them to monitor their domestic food supply, which in time enables them to perform risk assessments that enable them to participate in international standards setting discussions, but it also benefits exporters to these markets by reducing the likelihood of unreliable results that could initiate shipment refusals or economic depreciation of shipments. International capacity building in food safety is a win-win situation.

Janie Dubois, Ph.D., Laboratory Manager, Joint Institute for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (JIFSAN)
In the Food Lab

Capacity Building in Food Safety

By Janie Dubois, Ph.D.
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Janie Dubois, Ph.D., Laboratory Manager, Joint Institute for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (JIFSAN)
I’ll start this with a blunt and age-revealing truth: This is my first blog. This means I am more than happy to receive your “constructive advice” and suggestions for topics. This blog will appear monthly and focus on capacity building in food safety.
 
I would like to start by explaining what I do and through the months, introduce a number of initiatives and organizations involved in this field. The thing about food safety is that we all want it and there is a willingness to improve it; however, this objective can always benefit from more engagement and better knowledge of the tools that exist.
 
So back to me… I manage the International Food Safety Training Laboratory (IFSTL), a public-private partnership between the University of Maryland and the Waters Corporation. The Lab is the latest program at Joint Institute for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (JIFSAN), which itself is a public-academic partnership between the University and the U.S. FDA. Why so complicated, you might wonder, because it takes a village… Put simply, what we do is deliver courses on laboratory methods fit for the purpose of demonstrating the safety of food. Why the village? Because one important reason for testing is to meet regulatory requirements put in place to ensure the health of populations and enforced through trade channels. We are lucky enough to be able to involve the regulators in the US (i.e. FDA, USDA and EPA) to explain why the rules are there, why some methods fit the purpose and others don’t, but also we ask them to explain what the health and economic consequences of failures to deliver safe food are. Then we needed teachers for hands-on laboratory work, and we needed some resources to make it happen. As I said, it takes a village.
 
The IFSTL is a resource for technical assistance and training identified in the FDA’s International Food Safety Capacity-Building Plan published in February 2013. Goal 4 of the Plan specifically addresses technical assistance and objective 4.4 further defines the vision for multilateral acceptance of fit-for-purpose laboratory methods. Personal experience has taught us that some laboratory analysts embrace the flexibility brought about by requiring methods to be equivalent instead of a rigid imposition of pre-defined methods, but others would rather simply be told what to do. The flexibility allows each laboratory to apply the methods that best fit their situation in terms of access to trained staff, to instrumentation, to test kits and to financial resources, while still fitting the purpose of the measurement. There are usually quite a few recommended validated methods and good reasons to select any of them. So for that topic only, there are lots of questions requiring not only technical expertise on instrumentation, but also on the requirements of the regulatory system and, let’s face it, tricks of the trade.
 
The selection of courses we offer is guided by input from FDA foreign posts informing us of needs observed in their region. The need may arise from a new regulatory requirement, from a change in agricultural production and exports or simply because training is not available in the region. We also receive input from the industry, primarily but not exclusively from members of the JIFSAN Advisory Council. Finally, we also receive requests from other countries either through technical assistance activities or directly from analysists. Generally, we prepare courses that are open to the public (of laboratory analysts) from the US and foreign countries for registration, and these courses always benefit from a heavy involvement from the U.S. regulatory agencies. In some cases, we develop and deliver private courses for industry that include aspects of their own laboratory quality control systems. In a nutshell, that’s what we do at the IFSTL.
 
In the coming months, I will talk about a number of initiative in food safety capacity building and I hope that it will encourage us to continue to work together to achieve the goal of providing safe food to the world.