Two food safety rules proposed today by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) usher in a more proactive stance from the federal government in preventing contaminated food produced by domestic and foreign sources from reaching consumers in the United States.
FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, MD, said during a press briefing that the agency responds quickly to foodborne illness outbreaks but must do more than react after outbreaks occur. “Preventing problems before they cause harm is not only common sense but key to food safety in the 21st century,” she said.
Hamburg noted that 1 in 6 Americans contract a foodborne illness every year, resulting in 130 000 hospitalizations and 3000 deaths. Foodborne illness outbreaks also may steer consumers away from eating healthy fresh fruits and vegetables, she noted.
“These proposed regulations are a sign of progress that should be welcomed by consumers and the food industry alike,” Caroline Smith DeWaal, JD, food safety director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said in a statement. Both rules would implement the 2-year-old FDA Food Safety Modernization Act. That law, passed after illness outbreaks occurred from regulated foods including spinach and peanut butter, was designed to focus efforts on preventing food contamination.
The proposed produce safety rule is intended to reduce contamination of fruits and vegetables with microbes that cause salmonella, listeriosis, and other foodborne illnesses. New science-based standards would require food handlers and supervisors to be trained in hygienic practices; set sanitary requirements for agricultural water; establish soil safety criteria; protect growing areas from exposure to fecal matter from domesticated or wild animals; require documentation that tools and equipment that come in contact with food are cleaned and sanitized; and establish safety measures for growing, harvesting, packing, or storing beans and seeds used to sprout crops. The rule would apply to both domestic and imported produce.
Under the other proposed rule, US and foreign food producers who sell their products in the United States would have to maintain a written food safety plan, identify safety hazards at their facilities and develop plans to prevent those that are reasonably likely to occur, and have plans for corrective action if food contamination occurs.
Michael Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, said the rules establish a common set of standards but allow flexibility for food processors to comply, depending on their facilities’ operations. He also noted that food importers would have to verify that their products were grown under the same standards as in the United States, giving the agency more oversight of imported foods.
The rules are open for comment until mid-May.