USDA begins shut down of produce pathogen testing program

The life of federal foodborne pathogen monitoring program is coming to a close.

The USDA Agricultural Marketing Service’s Microbiological Data Program, which began in 2001 as a mechanism to collect data about foodborne pathogens on fresh fruits and vegetables, stopped collecting samples Nov. 9 – one of the first steps in ending the program, according to The Packer.

The program tested for pathogens such as Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC, including E. coli O157:H7), Listeria monocytogenes and Salmonella.

Funding for the program was not renewed earlier this year – a move the House Appropriations Committee reported would save the USDA roughly $4.4 million annually. Officials plan to have the program shut down by the end of the year, according to Food Safety News.

Officials said the program was never meant to be a part of the “safety net” for foodborne illness, however, when positive samples were detected the USDA alerted the FDA, which often lead to recalls, The Packer reports.

FDA currently has other monitoring procedures in place, according to Food Safety News.

The original intent for the program was to obtain microbiological data in order to “establish a microbial baseline to assess the risks of contamination.” The data provided needed information to formulate benchmarks and assess whether efforts to cut down and eliminate pathogens were working, according to the USDA.

Advocates of ending the program say pathogen testing should be performed by the FDA, not the USDA, and that the program took too long before producing actionable results. However, those in favor of the program cite recalls initiated from data gathered by the program, including this summer’s cantaloupe recall (samples tested positive for Listeria) and the high frequency of testing.

 

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