FDA Proposes Strict New Food Safety Standards
January 5, 2013

Food Safety Standards Proposed By The FDA

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed new safety regulations designed to help prevent food-related illnesses, various media outlets reported on Friday.

According to Bill Tomson of the Wall Street Journal, the new regulations were crafted with an eye towards forcing farmers to "keep deadly bacteria out of their fields" and requiring processors to be subject to "stricter safety monitoring" at their plants.

Tomson notes the rules will address "all aspects of growing and harvesting produce, including crops like cantaloupes and lettuce, which have been the source of deadly illness outbreaks in recent years," and will also require "facilities that use those raw crops to make food like peanut butter" to "implement government-approved plans" designed to prevent bacteria and other microbes from causing contamination.

The new requirements, which could be finalized following a four-month period of information gathering and commenting from the public, are "part of a larger food-safety overhaul" -- the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) -- "that was signed into law" by President Barack Obama on January 4, 2011 the Wall Street Journal said.

Stephanie Strom of the New York Times adds that the overhaul will shift the agency's focus away from acting only after food contamination has been reported, and instead attempting to be pro-active in keeping harmful products off of store shelves to begin with.

"These new rules really set the basic framework for a modern, science-based approach to food safety and shifts us from a strategy of reacting to problems to a strategy for preventing problems," FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine Michael R. Taylor told Strom in an interview.

One of the rules would require companies that manufacture processed foods sold in the US to devise and implement a series of procedures that would reduce contamination risk, as well as come up with a plan for fixing any issues that would arise and for maintaining records that could be reviewed by FDA inspectors, the Times said.

The other would focus on ways to prevent contamination from E. coli and other forms of bacteria. It would require farmers to establish a series of purity standards for the water that touches their crops, as well as water added to soil for plants to utilize through their roots. The rules would also require companies to make sure workers regularly wash their hands and take steps to keep animals out of fields, Mary Claire Jalonick of the Associated Press (AP) noted.

"The long-overdue regulations are aimed at reducing the estimated 3,000 deaths a year from foodborne illness," Jalonick said. "Just since last summer, outbreaks of listeria in cheese and salmonella in peanut butter, mangoes and cantaloupe have been linked to more than 400 illnesses and as many as seven deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The actual number of those sickened is likely much higher."

"The FDA estimates the new rules could prevent almost 2 million illnesses annually, but it could be several years before the rules are actually preventing outbreaks," she added. Following the four-month comment period, "farms would have at least two years to comply -- meaning the farm rules are at least three years away from taking effect. Smaller farms would have even longer to comply."