Press Release
July 13, 2015

Food safety emergencies need their own "SOCO" - Recto

With unsafe food, from contaminated durian candies to toxic milk tea downing thousands of people every year, a senator has called for the formation of a team of scientists and doctors which can be rapidly deployed to places hit by food poisoning outbreaks.

"I think it is time to form quick reaction teams that can respond to food safety emergencies," Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph G. Recto said.

"Parang isang SOCO o CSI sa mga kaso ng mass food poisoning," Recto said.

He explained that the formation of "that elite team of responders to food poisoning cases" is authorized under Republic Act 10611, or the Food Safety Act of 2013.

According to Recto, the proposed team could help local health officials trace the origins of an outbreak, do a rapid analysis, and recommend containment measures.

"Their presence alone will have a calming effect that prevents panic which usually follows disasters with still unexplained causes," he said.

Members of the team, he said, can be recruited from personnel of Food and Drug Administration, National Epidemiology Center, Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, National Center for Disease Prevention and Control, and National Poison Control Center, among others.

Recto said the formation of such team should be prioritized by Food Safety Regulation Coordinating Board (FSRCB), which has been described as the super body which ensures that food produced, imported to, and sold in the Philippines are safe.

Under RA 10611, the FSRCB is tasked to set up a "Rapid Alert System" responsible for the "notification of a direct or indirect risk to human health due to food."

The Board is mandated to prescribe the "emergency measures" when food hazards have been reported.

It is also required to prepare "crisis management plans, which should be activated when emergency arises."

In order to detect this, the Board must put in place a nationwide "food-borne illness monitoring and surveillance" system.

The FSRCB is co-chaired by the secretaries of Health and Agriculture.

Nearly 2,000 schoolchildren in Surigao del Sur were rushed to hospitals Friday after they complained of dizziness and vomiting allegedly caused by contaminated durian candies.

Earlier this month, expired chocolate candies downed 36 Butuan City students.

Mushrooms bought in two town markets were tagged as the culprits in the hospitalization of 17 people in Pangasinan last June 26.

Also last month, 39 pupils and a teacher in Cauayan, Negros Occidental were brought to various hospitals due to alleged food poisoning after eating bichokoy, a local version of the doughnut.

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