A draft assessment and action plan addressing the relative risk to public health from Listeria monocytogenes among selected categories of ready-to-eat foods, to be released January 19 by the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, "is solid forward progress for food safety," according to the National Food Processors Association (NFPA).

"This risk assessment provides government and the food industry with important information that can be used to target our food safety efforts at those areas where they will be most effective," said Dr. Rhona Applebaum, NFPA's Executive Vice President of Scientific and Regulatory Affairs.  "And the action plan, which is based on the data contained in the risk assessment, sets an agenda for further enhancing the safety of the food supply."

The risk assessment and action plan were among several food safety-related activities or rulemakings to be announced on January 19 by the federal government.

"In releasing this data, FDA and USDA made it clear that listeriosis is a disease that primarily impacts 'at-risk' subpopulations, which include pregnant women, older adults, infants and those with compromised immune systems," Dr. Applebaum noted.  "It is particularly important that these individuals, or those who care for them, follow proper food handling and preparation for all foods, especially those with a greater potential risk to become contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes."

Dr. Applebaum pointed out that "It is important that consumers understand that the risk assessment is not a finding that certain foods are dangerous.  Rather, it is a assessment of where the greatest potential risk may exist for foods to become contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.  In this way, government and industry can best target our food safety efforts."

"While important, this risk assessment is a work in progress," Dr. Applebaum said.  "It is a good first step, but significant data gaps exist and more data is needed.  NFPA's Research Foundation is currently working on a project for the U.S. government to gather data on Listeria monocytogenes."

Regarding the action plan, Dr. Applebaum noted that "NFPA endorses the plan's emphasis on enhanced education of both consumers and health care providers, particularly to reach targeted subpopulations most impacted by listeriosis.  NFPA looks forward to reviewing both the draft risk assessment and the action plan, and we will continue to work closely with FDA and USDA on addressing this issue."

NFPA is the voice of the $460 billion food processing industry on scientific and public policy issues involving food safety, nutrition, technical and regulatory matters and consumer affairs. 

For more information on this issue, contact Timothy Willard, NFPA's Vice President of Communications, at (202) 637-8060, Libby Mikesell, NFPA's Senior Director of Communications, at (202) 639-5919 or visit NFPA's Website at www.nfpa-food.org.