Food Safety Challenges within North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) Partners

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Organizational elements and limitations influencing the effective operation of the food safety regulatory infrastructures in the United States, Canada, and Mexico are compared. Progress to improve the safety of food in North American countries is hampered by common problems, yet differences exist. Foodborne illness surveillance and reporting are most comprehensive in the United States, but it is uniformly more reactive than proactive in all 3 countries. Food safety policy is based on outbreak data, but that may be short-sighted because these represent roughly 10% of foodborne illness cases. Food inspection in each country is done at 2 tiers (federal and other) by many agencies at 3 (federal/state-provincial/municipal) levels. Interagency collaboration at times of crisis is weak and frequent heterogeneity in training, inspection targets, and inspection rigor affect regulatory credibility. Enhanced recognition that industry has the prime responsibility for food safety is warranted (and must not be confused with self-inspection) along with justifiably aggressive regulatory agency interrogation of food safety system performance. End product testing should be used to verify safety system operation and should not be used to predict product safety. Specific microbial and nonmicrobial challenges to safe food in North America are highlighted and a rationalization of fiscal/human resource allocation to most effectively reduce the burden of foodborne illness is provided.

Richard A. Holley
Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety