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WEDNESDAY, July 28 (HealthDay News) -- More than 100 reports of potentially hazardous food products were filed with the U.S. government's food safety Web site in its first seven months of operation, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday.
The Reportable Food Registry requires manufacturers, processors, packers and distributors to immediately report safety problems with food, animal feed and pet food that are likely to cause serious health problems. The registry was mandated by Congress in 2007, following a series of high-profile outbreaks of food-borne illnesses across the country.
"The registry was intended to give FDA the ability to identify problems of potential contamination of food and feed and to take action to prevent those incidents of contamination from actually reaching people and potentially causing illness," Michael R. Taylor, the FDA's deputy commissioner for foods, said during an afternoon news conference.
Between September 2009, when the registry was launched, and March 2010, a total of 125 reports were received about food safety. These reports, in turn, generated an additional 1,638 reports from suppliers or recipients of a food or feed implicated in a report. The reports came from both domestic and foreign sources, the FDA said.
One report resulted in the recall last February of salmonella- contaminated hydrolyzed vegetable protein, a flavor enhancer, before any incidents of illness. The product is used in hundreds of food items, from hot dogs to dips and dressings, according to the agency.
Another report resulted in the November 2009 recall of products that contained sulfites not listed as ingredients on the package labels. People with an allergy or severe sensitivity to sulfites risk a serious or life-threatening allergic reaction if they consume such products.
Of the 125 initial reports, 37 percent were for Salmonella contamination, 25 percent were for suspected allergens, and 13 percent were for products contaminated with the bacteria Listeria, the FDA said.
Dr. David L. Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine, said there's a definite need for an effective surveillance system to protect the public from food-borne illness.
"Unfortunately, the necessary person-power at FDA has always been less than required to police the nation's vast food supply -- and a lot of food-borne illness has occurred as a result," he said.
So far, this new system seems to be working as intended. "And represents a creative leveraging of resources to protect the public health," Katz said.
"However," he added, "the definitive evidence of the system's value will come when we can compare year-to-year trends in food-borne illness, and clearly see the curve heading down."
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