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The Food Marketing Institute (FMI) has issued a follow-up to last week’s “member alert.” Excerpts follow:

• “Early in the week of March 5, 2007, state and local inspectors who routinely inspect your facility may visit your store as part of an FDA-USDA Food Defense Surveillance Assignment. Your participation is voluntary although strongly encouraged by FDA. No store deficiencies will be reported based on this FDA-USDA assignment.”

• “Additionally, the inspectors have been asked to make retailers and wholesalers aware of the FDA Alert program – this will be information only.”

• “The inspectors have been told to select a product that fits the category: tomato based pasta sauce, with or without meat, and may include certain spices such as basil and oregano. This may be a manufacturer’s product (canned, jarred, frozen, etc.), private-label product, or made/assembled on-site. FDA has not limited it to any specific product within this category.”

• “The inspector will ask if you can provide information on the immediate previous source of the product.”

• “Very few samples will be collected the first week (less than 20 samples nationwide will be collected at retail stores). These samples will not be tested for ‘routine’ foodborne pathogens.

• “The inspectors do not have a standardized form for collecting the information. There is no specific time-frame for providing the information, although FDA hopes that most, if not all, of the information will be collected by Thursday, March 8.”

• “The information collected at the store will be sent to FDA headquarters. FDA has set up a central coordination team to review all the information gathered during the first week. From this, they will select only certain products to continue the trace back. This will be the ‘directed’ part of the assignment and only a limited number of items will be included.”

• “In determining which products to continue to trace back over the following 3 weeks, we have asked FDA to take into consideration the burden placed on any single company if requested to trace more than one product, the disruption to normal distribution activities, other “real” priorities, etc. FDA said it was not their intention to overburden any company or any state/local jurisdiction.”

• “This is not a test of the recall system nor is it a regulatory initiative. It is only intended to ‘assess our (FDA-USDA) readiness in coordination and communication with all stakeholders should an actual event occur.’ A similar exercise was carried out in 2004 involving manufacturers and processors; this 2004 assignment did not include retail/wholesale.”

• “At the conclusion of the assignment, it is anticipated that a report similar to the one published following the 2004 surveillance assignment will be developed. The report will be an overall summary, no specific company names will be included and it will be publicly available.”

• “FDA said that they would like FMI to coordinate any complaints, comments or questions that arise next week and they will work with us to address these. Also, they emphasized that any real emergency should take precedence over this test…Further, FDA suggested FMI gather information from retailers/wholesalers on any ‘lessons learned’ after the assignment is completed and provide this to FDA.”

• “FDA agreed to participate in an FMI member conference call following the assignment to discuss the overall outcome of the assignment and ‘gap’ analysis.”

For more information contact FMI at 202-452-8444.
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