WASHINGTON The National Restaurant Association praised the White House's recommendations to upgrade and strengthen the nation's food safety system.
The new proposals, which were recommended on Tuesday by a Food Safety Working Group created by President Obama earlier this year, focus on prevention, enforcement and the acceleration of the government's response time to outbreaks.
Chief among the proposals outlined by the working group was the need for the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture to target salmonella contamination by developing tougher standards to protect the safety of eggs, poultry and turkey.
The group also said that the USDA will step up enforcement in beef plants while the Food and Drug Administration develops new guidelines to further protect leafy greens, melons and tomatoes.
The administration said it would create a "unified incident command system" to help coordinate government response to future foodborne illness outbreaks. The FDA is expected to hire a deputy commissioner for foods, while the Food Safety and Inspection Service will bring in a new chief medical officer.
Beth Johnson, the NRA's executive vice president of public affairs, applauded the administration's initiative, saying: "The emphasis on prevention and the creation of a deputy foods commissioner position within the FDA brings renewed focus to reforming our nation's food safety system.
"The key findings by the administration's Food Safety Working Group bring a fresh perspective to the policy discussions and are an important step forward in achieving much-needed reform," she said.
Speaking at yesterday's news conference, Vice President Joe Biden said, "There are few responsibilities more basic or more important for the government than making sure the food our families eat is safe. Our food safety system must be updated -- one in four people get sick every year due to foodborne illness."
The working group's proposals follow a recent series of food poisoning outbreaks involving such items as refrigerated cookie dough, beef, peanut products, peppers and spinach.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee recently approved a measure seeking to overhaul the FDA that experts feel could help to address some of the issues not included in the working group's recommendations.
The bipartisan-sponsored bill, titled the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009, was designed to strengthen the nation's food safety system and respond to foodborne illness outbreaks. Among other things, the measure would give the FDA more funding and power to investigate food producers, require food manufacturers to write and implement safety plans, and track and recall unsafe food products.
Commenting on all of the recent food safety activity, Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said: "This is a good beginning for the Obama administration when it comes to food safety. But it faces many tests of how quickly the administration can fix a weakened federal food safety structure and reverse course on policies wrongly decided under the Bush administration.
"Congress must pass the Food Safety Enhancement Act to give the FDA the statutory foundation needed as well as increased financial resources to restore Americans' confidence in the safety of our food supply," she said.