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Pathogen test program will cease operations

After months of uncertainty over the future of the program, the Agricultural Marketing Service’s Microbiological Data Program, which tests produce for disease-causing pathogens like E. coli O157:H7, salmonella, and listeria, has officially gone into shutdown mode, a U.S. Department of Agriculture official confirmed last week to Food Safety News.

Department officials told states that participate in the $4.5 million program to stop pulling produce samples on Friday Nov. 9 to “ensure an orderly shutdown of the program by December 31.”

According to an analysis by Food Safety News, ending MDP will eliminate more than 80 percent of public produce testing for pathogens. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which has jurisdiction over the safety of produce, also has a produce testing program, but it is significantly smaller.

When asked if USDA officials were coordinating with FDA on the program cut, an AMS official said discussions were ongoing, but declined to elaborate further, said the Food Safety News report.

“Many produce buyers and growers conduct microbiological testing as part of their internal food safety programs,” said FDA spokeswoman Carla Daniels, who confirmed that USDA and FDA are coordinating on the MDP shutdown.

“FDA will continue its existing efforts to collect and analyze fresh produce samples to provide some information regarding the level of contamination associated with fresh produce,” said Daniels. “FDA does not currently sample at the same level as the MDP program. FDA collects and analyzes produce samples primarily through its domestic and import produce sampling assignments and through some limited contract sampling.”

Originally posted Monday, Nov. 19, 2012

Tags: food safety, listeria, salmonella, usda

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