Date published: March 1, 2013
Journal code: PENV
NEHA's Partnering Activities With the Food and Drug Administration
NEHAs leadership has been working diligently with leadership of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and several other agencies and organizations to provide input for an Integrated Food Safety System (IFSS) being developed in the U.S. NEHAs board of directors has engaged this initiative and assigned over a dozen representatives from across the country to participate in the Partnership for Food Protection (PFP).
PFP was established to complete projects recommended at the 2008 50-State Workshop held in St. Louis, Missouri. PFP is a group of dedicated food safety professionals from federal, state, tribal, and local governments who convened to build the foundation of an IFSS. In January 2011, the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was passed, which calls for enhanced partnerships and provides a legal mandate for developing an IFSS.
NEHA was well represented at the 2008 50-State Workshop, as well as at PFP's subsequent 50-State Workshops in 2010 (Denver, Colorado) and 2012 (Nashville, Tennessee). Several NEHA board members participated in the 2012 workshop along with over 200 food safety experts representing federal, state, tribal, and local government agencies and nongovernmental organizations. PFP's leadership is comprised of governing, coordinating, and steering committees. In recent years, NEHA representation has been prominent as board members held positions on each of the committees and various work groups. NEHA President Brian Collins serves on the PFP Governance and Steering Committees and President-Elect Alicia Enriquez Collins was recently appointed to the Coordinating Committee, replacing Immediate Past President Mel Knight.
Activities at the 2012 PFP 50-State Workshop focused on implementation of an IFSS. The following work groups were formed to make recommendations on more effective and integrated work practices among agencies in order to promote safety of the U.S. food and feed supply: 1) Work Planning, 2) Compliance and Enforcement, 3) After Action, 4) Joint Inspections, 5) Information Technology, and 6) Implementation. Goals of work groups were to identify steps for immediately improving communication and coordination among food safety and public health partners in 2013 and to identify sustainable approaches to these elements moving forward.
In an effort to encourage more input from local regulatory agencies, President Collins convened a group of approximately 20 environmental health professionals at the 2012 PFP 50-State Workshop to meet with FDA Deputy Commissioner Dr. Michael Taylor. Local representatives provided feedback to Dr. Taylor about the need to engage local agency representatives in the process to create an IFSS. Dr. Taylor expressed his appreciation for comments received and committed to including local agency representatives.
In a letter sent to the Council of Association Presidents after the 2012 workshop, Dr. Taylor wrote,
"Recently, I had the pleasure of attending FDAs third 50-State Workshop in Nashville, Tennessee. The workshop turned the corner on implementing a national food safety system: from a concept into next steps. From my perspective, the meeting was an unqualified success.
"I was excited to see representation from local agencies and met personally with a group of about 30 individuals who voiced a strong desire to play a larger role in the PFP process. State and local agencies work closely with each other each and every day. We need to identify the high priority areas for local agencies to engage in our quest to achieve an IFSS.
"I know that each of your Associations sent a representative to the workshop and I'd like to thank you for your support of this important effort. The work your employees have done with PFP and their unceasing commitment towards partnering and working together with us is to be commended."
Dr. Taylor closed the letter by saying, "I am confident that together, as a community, we can move forward and achieve tangible results towards ensuring the safety of our food supply. We have an opportunity here to work together to protect food safety and the public health and we equally share that responsibility and privilege. I hope that with our uniform commitment towards our common goal, we are able to transform this concept into a reality."
NEHA is pleased to report tremendous progress since the 2012 workshop! Since this meeting with Dr. Taylor, President Collins submitted a proposal to FDA to initiate a Local Agency Engagement Workgroup (LAEW) and it has been approved by FDA leadership (see sidebar). LAEW conference call meetings are now underway!
NEHAs board of directors will work closely to carry on with this effort through 2013. Based on NEHAs participation at the recent PFP 50-State Workshop; the hard work of volunteers on the PFP Governance, Steering, and Coordinating Committees; various workgroups; and now the LAEW, FDA will continue to look to NEHA for leadership, expertise, and valued input.