Food Safety and Quality:

Salmonella Control Efforts Show Need for More Coordination

RCED-92-69: Published: Apr 21, 1992. Publicly Released: May 21, 1992.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the health threat posed by eggs contaminated with salmonella enteritidis bacteria, focusing on: (1) how the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) coordinated efforts to address the salmonella problem; and (2) what additional actions are needed to control salmonella.

GAO found that: (1) USDA and FDA efforts to control salmonella outbreaks were initially stymied by questions of jurisdiction, a lack of scientific data about the nature of the problem, FDA resource considerations, and disagreement and coordination problems between the two agencies about what actions to take; (2) the coordination and cooperation difficulties were due to the present regulatory structure of split and concurrent jurisdictions; (3) USDA and FDA are trying to restore working relationships for salmonella control, but the federal government has not agreed on a unified approach to address the problem; (4) the difficulties FDA and USDA had working together are not unusual among federal agencies responsible for food safety regulation; and (5) egg safety cannot be ensured without additional controls beyond the current USDA program to test chicken flocks.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The recommendation has been overshadowed by the recent proposals to move all food safety responsibilities to FDA. If this is done, this recommendation becomes moot. In any case, action on the recommendation is not probable considering current proposals to consolidate all total food safety authority in one agency.

    Matter: To better ensure effective interagency coordination and cooperation in cases where food safety issues and emergencies require joint agency action to address, Congress may wish to consider legislation establishing the structure for an interagency food safety task force that could be activated to address specific food safety issues and emergencies and that would be staffed and financed by federal agencies and organization appropriate to the given situation being addressed. Such a structure could include the position of chairperson, empowered with the authority to direct resources and ensure action by interagency members.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Improvements in USDA/FDA coordination and cooperation due to OMB oversight as evidenced by MOU on S.e. between USDA/FDA. This recommendation should be closed.

    Recommendation: In view of the past coordination and cooperation difficulties experienced by USDA and FDA, and given the recurring nature of those types of problems in the area of food safety regulation, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) should closely monitor USDA and FDA efforts to address the salmonella problem in order to facilitate continued interagency coordination and cooperation and the efficient, effective, and economical expenditure of resources for S.e. control.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USDA now has a comprehensive pilot project in process to reduce S.e. in laying flocks. The project employs a modified HAACP approach. This recommendation should be closed.

    Recommendation: To better ensure that the public health threat presented by salmonella-contaminated eggs is minimized throughout production, distribution, and consumption, the Secretary of Agriculture and the Commissioner, FDA, should require the USDA/FDA Salmonella enteritidis (S.e.) Work Group to develop a comprehensive salmonella control program for eggs that employs Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point principles to identify and encompass all possible areas of bacterial contamination, and that implements methods to ensure control.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: A memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed to guide USDA/FDA efforts to reduce incidence of S.e./egg-related food poisioning. The HACCP approach regarding eggs is now being used in a comprehensive pilot project to reduce S.e. in laying flocks. This recommendation should be closed.

    Recommendation: To better ensure that the public health threat presented by salmonella-contaminated eggs is minimized throughout production, distribution, and consumption, the Secretary of Agriculture and the Commissioner, FDA, should require the USDA/FDA Salmonella enteritidis (S.e.) Work Group to develop a comprehensive salmonella control program for eggs that employs Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point principles to identify and encompass all possible areas of bacterial contamination, and that implements methods to ensure control.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services: Public Health Service: Food and Drug Administration

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USDA is working with FDA and other agencies to encourage the use of pasteurized eggs in high-risk settings such as hospitals and elderly care facilities, and by restaurants and the food service industry. This recommendation should be closed.

    Recommendation: To better protect more salmonella-susceptible sectors of the population, such as the ill, the elderly, infants, and pregnant women, the Secretary of Agriculture and the Commissioner, FDA, should work with other federal agencies, including the Office of Management and Budget, and state governments to encourage the use of pasteurized eggs, to the extent possible, in food assistance programs and in institutions such as hospitals and elderly care facilities where the more salmonella-susceptible population sectors are served and to encourage the use of pasteurized eggs by restaurants and the food service industry.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FDA has a number of ongoing efforts to encourage the use of pasteurized eggs by the food service industry, restaurants, and other institutions. This recommendation should be closed.

    Recommendation: To better protect more salmonella-susceptible sectors of the population, such as the ill, the elderly, infants, and pregnant women, the Secretary of Agriculture and the Commissioner, FDA, should work with other federal agencies, including the Office of Management and Budget, and state governments to encourage the use of pasteurized eggs, to the extent possible, in food assistance programs and in institutions such as hospitals and elderly care facilities where the more salmonella-susceptible population sectors are served and to encourage the use of pasteurized eggs by restaurants and the food service industry.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services: Public Health Service: Food and Drug Administration

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Model codes were revised to recommend substitution of pasteurized eggs in lieu of shell eggs by the food service industry. This recommendation should be closed.

    Recommendation: To better protect more salmonella-susceptible sectors of the population, such as the ill, the elderly, infants, and pregnant women, the Commissioner, FDA, should direct that the FDA Food Service, Sanitation and Retail Store Ordinances' model code, which is provided to the states as a guide for public health agencies in regulating the food service industry, be amended to recommend the use of pasteurized eggs by the food service industry.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services: Public Health Service: Food and Drug Administration

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USDA has proposed a requirement that all shell eggs destined for consumer use be labelled for refrigeration. USDA has also revised its regulations for voluntary grading programs to require egg refrigeration at 45 degrees F or less. In addition, USDA is encouraging the use of pasteurized eggs in high-risk settings and has an agreement with FDA that calls for both agencies to increase educational efforts regarding safe consumer handling and use of shell eggs. This recommendation should be closed.

    Recommendation: To better protect more salmonella-susceptible sectors of the population, such as the ill, the elderly, infants, and pregnant women, USDA and FDA, at a minimum, should encourage the refrigeration of fresh eggs and where possible the substitution of pasteurized egg products in recipes at all federally operated hospitals, institutions such as prisons, restaurants, and in federal food assistance programs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  8. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FDA is encouraging egg refrigeration and substitution of pasteurized egg products at federal facilities and institutions, and nursing homes. Health care professionals, in general, also are encouraged to adopt this practice. Also, USDA is encouraging the substitution of pasteurized eggs and the USDA/FDA MOU calls for expanded education outreach programs aimed at consumers regarding the safe handling use of eggs. This recommendation should be closed.

    Recommendation: To better protect more salmonella-susceptible sectors of the population, such as the ill, the elderly, infants, and pregnant women, USDA and FDA, at a minimum, should encourage the refrigeration of fresh eggs and where possible the substitution of pasteurized egg products in recipes at all federally operated hospitals, institutions such as prisons, restaurants, and in federal food assistance programs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services: Public Health Service: Food and Drug Administration

 

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