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FSA made good, quick move

NEW YORK -- For those concerned about food safety, one of the most encouraging events in years was the recent blanket warning from the Food and Drug Administration about salmonella in pistachios. The agency advised consumers to store or throw out...

NEW YORK -- For those concerned about food safety, one of the most encouraging events in years was the recent blanket warning from the Food and Drug Administration about salmonella in pistachios. The agency advised consumers to store or throw out pistachios while investigators figured out which health bars, granola products or nuts were tainted.

It seemed a simple enough advisory. But the announcement also sent a powerful signal to those in the food business that the FDA planned to focus more urgently on the safety of consumers.

"We're going to try to stop people from getting sick in the first place, as opposed to waiting until we have illness and death before we take action," says Dr. David Acheson, the agency's associate commissioner for foods.

This is encouraging news. But a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that the agency still has a long way to go. Food safety, the report says, has not improved in the last three years, largely because of failures at the FDA.

The Department of Agriculture, which shares oversight of food safety with the FDA, has waged a more vigorous and successful campaign to reduce contamination in meat and poultry. In contrast, the FDA, which monitors produce, seafood and other foods, has too few inspectors and too little clout to deal with an increasingly global food supply.

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The latest outbreak of salmonella in peanut products, which left hundreds sick and contributed to nine deaths, illustrates the problem. Inspections delegated to state officials missed critical safety failures at a Georgia peanut plant. And the FDA had trouble getting detailed records in a timely fashion.

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