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Senate Health Panel Approves Food Safety Bill That Includes Murkowski Initiatives Involving Seafood Safety and Bush Food Shipments

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Nov. 18 approved comprehensive food safety legislation that includes provisions by U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, pertaining to seafood safety and food shipments to rural and frontier areas, including the Alaskan Bush.

The bill, approved unanimously by the HELP Committee, would address recent events concerning unsafe and tainted foods, including contaminated spinach with E. Coli and peanut butter laced with Salmonella. The legislation would give the Food and Drug Administration new authorities and resources to tackle food safety problems and update food safety standards to ensure the security of our food supply.

"Despite the fact that we have one of the finest food safety systems in the world, there have been all too many cases of food-borne illnesses throughout the country in recent years," Murkowski said. "I am glad to see that we were able to pass out of the HELP Committee a strong, bipartisan overhaul of our food safety system that would place greater emphasis on prevention of food-borne illness and give the FDA the tools it needs to better ensure that our food supply is safe."

One of Murkowski's amendments would direct the FDA to update the Fish and Fisheries Products Hazards and Control Guidance, which assists seafood processors in the development of their Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) plans.

"As a process control system, HACCP identifies where hazards might occur in the food production process and puts in place stringent actions that will prevent hazards from occurring," Murkowski said. "By strictly monitoring and controlling each step of the process, there is less chance for hazards to occur."

The guidance was last updated in 2001, and Murkowski's amendment would require the FDA to update the HACCP guidance within six months of enactment.

Based on outbreak information and new scientific developments, some aspects of the 2001 guidance are no longer valid," Murkowski said. "We've been waiting three years to get updated guidance, and my amendment would hold the FDA accountable for ensuring that this happens in six months."

Murkowski's second amendment would direct the FDA to do a study on transportation of food for consumption in rural and frontier areas, which includes most of Alaska and its villages.

"I heard from a number of constituents at my health care town hall events this past summer about the need to ensure our food safety throughout Alaska and particularly in our rural areas," Murkowski said. "It is difficult to transport fresh foods and perishable foods to the Bush. Consequently, there is a high spoilage factor and risk of food-borne illness with these foods. This study would allow for Alaska and other rural areas to better understand safety issues related to the transportation of food in rural and frontier areas."

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