New FDA food inspection standards - will they make food safer?

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In the midst of the continuing botulism scare, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the U.S. have released guidelines outlining how food safety experts should inspect U.S. businesses that make, process and package food.

However although the list of "best practices" from the FDA aims to standardise safety inspections of food, state regulators are not obliged to adopt the guidelines, even though differences in state inspection practices can create inconsistencies in food safety standards.

The new guidelines are the result of five years of discussions between federal and state officials and come at an opportune moment, when a series of food scares over the last year from E. coli-tainted spinach, salmonella-contaminated peanut butter and poisonous pet food imported from China, have made consumers anxious and wary.

The guidelines aim to create more uniform, equivalent, and high quality regulatory programs for regulating facilities that manufacture, process, pack, or hold food under FDA’s jurisdiction.

Cans of Castleberry's tainted chili have been found to be the culprit in the latest food scare, with the first confirmed cases of botulism in U.S. canned foods in decades.

What is more, the four confirmed botulism cases are far flung, ranging from Indiana and Texas to possibly Hawaii and California, where more likely cases are being investigated.

Despite government warnings that consumers should immediately throw away more than 90 different products, from chili sauce to corned beef hash to dog food, produced at Castleberry's and sold under a variety of brand names, cases are still appearing.

Botulism is a rare but serious illness caused by eating foods containing the botulism nerve toxin that can cause paralysis of the arms, breathing muscles and legs.

The symptoms include blurred vision and slurred speech and as a rule appear anywhere from 18 to 36 hours after eating contaminated food.

The FDA says it recognises that it will be several years before the guidelines are fully implemented, but believe the program will benefit public health by reducing foodborne illness hazards in food facilities.

The FDA says the 'Manufactured Food Regulatory Program Standards' have corresponding self-assessment worksheets along with supplementary worksheets and will be pilot-tested in New York, Oregon, and Missouri before September 30, 2007.

The FDA regulates around 80 percent of the food supply, which includes food for humans and animals, except meat products, poultry products, and egg products, which are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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