Here is a question and answer with Mike Taylor, Deputy Commissioner for Foods for the FDA. I submitted the questions by email and Taylor responded by email May 10.
Tom Karst: What is a typical week like for you?
Mike Taylor: I’ve been here 10 months and have yet to have a typical week. Produce safety is a major priority, so I’ve been traveling across the country, listening to people who know produce so we can have the best information possible as we develop a proposed rule on preventive controls for produce. I recently traveled to San Antonio to meet with growers and tour farms and traveled out west to Tucson, where I met with the Produce Marketing Association. I also went to Nogales to meet with produce importers. We have had listening sessions around the country—in North Carolina, Florida, Delaware, New York, Maryland, Georgia, Oregon, and Ohio and will have visited 13 states by the end of May.
Karst: What is in your inbox? What are your top priorities now?
Taylor: The legislation pending in Congress is something we are watching very closely, of course. The legislation would enable FDA to codify a number of principles that are important for food safety, such as prevention, science- and risk-based controls, and ensuring that imports meet the same standards as domestically produced food. We want to be ready when the legislation passes, and that includes fundamental changes within the Foods Program so we can work effectively to implement change.
We also are evaluating the entire farm-to-table chain to see what improvements we can make. In addition to our work on produce safety, for example, we just released an advance notice of proposed rulemaking to request information about the food and feed transportation industry so we can gather the best information we can about hazards at this point of the farm-to-table chain. We also are working closely with state and local governments on retail food safety, since they exercise primary regulatory control over that segment of the food industry. And we are looking for ways to step up our consumer education efforts.
We have a number of nutrition initiatives we are working on, such as nutrition labeling, especially on the front of packages. Menu labeling, which is a component of the health care legislation, is another key issue. The new law requires restaurants with 20 or more locations to disclose in a clear and conspicuous manner the number of calories contained in menu items.