I had the chance to chat Jan. 18 with David Gombas, United Fresh Produce Association senior vice president for food safety and technology.
3:00 p.m. Tom Karst: There were reports this week that the Obama Administration would like to be granted authority to combine federal agencies for better efficiencies, and there is speculation that the White House would like to combine USDA and FDA food safety authority into one agency. What do you think of that prospect?
3:01 p.m. David Gombas: The idea of a single food safety agency is not new. The last three administrations have kicked around the idea of a single food safety agency. The problem is, it won’t matter if you merge the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service with the Food and Drug Administration because they are operating under different laws. You would have to change the laws. There would be a lot of expensive changes other than just changing the business cards. I don’t know (combining the agencies) would make the food supply any safer. What’s happened in the last decade is the agencies talk to each other better than they have in the past because they don’t like getting criticized for not talking to each other. (Combining agencies) is still not going to fix anything because the front line food safety efforts in the U.S. are managed by state and local officials, who have nothing to do with FDA or FSIS. For FSIS, yes, when you go to a meat and poultry plant there is a inspector in there, not a state and local inspector. But for FDA and every other product out there, it is the state and local officials that are managing that. Merging FDA and FSIS is not going to change that at all.
3:04 p.m. Karst: Coming back from the Jan. 11 Center for Produce Safety cantaloupe food safety meeting in San Diego, do you have any reflections about it now, a little time removed from the meeting?
3:04 p.m. Gombas: It is clear to me that the industry needs to take another look at the cantaloupe guidance, which is what it was designed for in 2005. It needs to be updated. It was the first of the commodity-specific guidance documents and they did a great job for it being the first document. But since then we have learned a lot of things about how to write this kind of guidance, and it needs to be updated. The watermelons did this a couple of years ago, and they followed the tomato model. So I think that would be my recommendation is that yes, we need to get cantaloupe food safety experts and stakeholders together to look at the guidance and figure out how to write it better based on the other guidances out there.