(Sept. 15, 3:50 p.m.) MONTEREY, Calif. — Help is on the way. Change is ongoing at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to advance food safety.

That was the message from Susan Winckler, the agency’s chief of staff, as keynote speaker during a luncheon at the Fresh Express Fresh Produce Safety Research Conference, in Monterey, Calif., Sept. 11.

Winckler said the FDA received an additional $125 million for food protection in fiscal year 2008. This is beyond the $48 million FDA had already allocated to implement the Food Protection Plan this fiscal year.

“We can’t prevent everything, but we need to establish a baseline so we can respond when there is an incident,” she said.

She said because so much produce is imported into the U.S., the FDA is establishing offices in other countries.

“FDA will have staff on the ground in the four regions of the world by the end of the year,” Winckler said.

Winckler told conference attendees the agency plans to hire 130 more inspectors, but noted it could never hire enough people to cover every contingency. She said the agency needs to do a better job working with the industry on traceback issues, particularly in the way it announces recalls on its Web site.

She said that when a California grower sent the agency a notice of a voluntary recall, it was posted on the Web site without making it clear the company was not implicated in an ongoing outbreak involving the same commodity.

“That could have been handled better, by adding a note at the top that the company was not part of the ongoing investigation,” she said. “We need to know how we can better communicate with consumers and get them to react, but not overreact. Right now, we’re not all that clear. We need to provide more context about how one event relates to another.”