WASHINGTON, D.C. - President Clinton recently announced the publication of a final rule to improve the safety of fruit and vegetable juices. In addition, he announced plans to create a Joint Institute for Food Safety Research to coordinate a strategy to conduct research on food safety.
The new juice regulation, which will take effect in time for this year's apple cider season, will help prevent illnesses from fresh, unpasteurized juices by requiring labels to alert consumers about the risks associated with these products. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) estimates that there are up to 40,000 cases of juice-related illness (including both treated and untreated juice) each year, and that this rule, especially when combined with another proposed food safety rule, will significantly reduce that number.
The FDA rule will require any packaged, untreated juice to be labeled with a warning statement advising consumers of the potential risks of juice that has not been processed to eliminate dangerous bacteria. This requirement will apply to all processors that package untreated juice for consumption off-site, including retail processors such as grocery stores that squeeze and bottle juice for home use. Retail sellers of juice for consumption on-site - such as restaurants and juice bars - will be exempt from this labeling requirement.
As a result of this new rule, consumers will see the following label on juice products that have not undergone pasteurization or a comparable treatment:
"WARNING: This product has not been pasteurized and, therefore, may contain harmful bacteria that can cause serious illness in children, the elderly and persons with weakened immune systems."
The labeling rule will also require that all fruit and vegetable juice processors implement a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) system for their products to protect the public from health hazards. The proposed HACCP regulation will ensure that processors take the steps necessary to reduce the number of microorganisms in their products to an amount roughly equivalent to that achieved by pasteurization. Retailers of packaged juice, as well as processors who sell less than 40,000 gallons of fresh juice per year, will be exempt from this requirement. The FDA is in the process of seeking comments on this proposal.
About 98% of all juice sold in the United States is pasteurized, and juice products generally are safe and nutritious, the White House assured. During the past few years, however, several serious outbreaks of foodborne illness have resulted from the consumption of juices that have not been pasteurized or otherwise treated to destroy pathogens.
As a result of the two rules described above, the FDA estimates that up to 40 million additional gallons of juice will be pasteurized, and the incidence of illness significantly reduced.
In related news, the president announced a plan to create a Joint Institute for Food Safety Research that will develop a coordinated strategy for conducting food safety research activities consistent with the President's Food Safety Initiative.
The two principal goals of the Joint Institute for Food Safety Research will be to develop the means to identify foodborne hazards more rapidly and accurately, and to develop effective interventions to prevent food contamination at each step from farm to table.
In addition to improving coordination among the federal agencies, the institute will serve as a focal point for coordinating research with states, the private sector and academia, by means of public-private research partnerships or other appropriate mechanisms. The specific structure and operations of the institute will be outlined in the agencies' report to the president, and will be based on extensive consultations with all interested parties, including consumers, farmers, industry and academia.
There are at least 12 agencies that conduct food safety research. Under the president's Food Safety Initiative, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy has established an interagency food safety research working group to help coordinate federal research priorities and planning. While this interagency process is improving coordination, a Joint Institute for Food Safety Research will provide an even stronger and better focused research strategy for food safety.
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