New Act Revamps Safety Standards

The Food Safety Modernization Act is expected to reduce illness and death.

By Whitney Phillips

Text Size: - +

The 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act, the biggest change in food safety legislation in nearly a century, extends U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations to the produce industry for the first time.

The FDA previously posted recommendations for produce safety but had no enforceable regulations in place. Safety standards were set by the industry and were often monitored by third-party inspection firms, meaning safety procedures varied from company to company.

Fruits and vegetables have been involved in several deadly foodborne illness outbreaks, including the 2006 E. coli outbreak linked to bagged spinach, which led the produce industry to ask for uniform federal standards.

“As a foodborne illness victim, [improvements in safety] will never be fast enough,” said Lauren Bush of New York City, who hemorrhaged to the point of nearly losing her colon after eating spinach contaminated with E. coli in 2006. She later lobbied for the new federal law.

Lawmakers included a provision requiring the FDA to research, develop and enforce science-based regulations for produce.

The regulations are expected to help reduce the nearly 1 million illnesses, 7,000 hospitalizations and 130 deaths linked to contaminated produce annually, according to statistics compiled in “Ranking the Risks,” a University of Florida Emerging Pathogens Institute report.

In general, the regulations will define how to prevent contamination from the field to grocery store shelves. The regulations are being drafted, and the agency will release the proposed regulations before January 2012 for a public comment period.

The law also calls for regulations that will improve safety requirements for fruits and vegetables by requiring that the FDA:

• Increase the number of inspections of high-risk facilities, which will likely include processing firms that handle raw produce.

• Require companies that process fruits and vegetables to implement preventative safety plans similar to the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points plans already in place for seafood and juice.

• Research and implement an improved system for tracking produce.

In addition, the law gives the FDA the power to force a company to recall contaminated produce and to revoke the registration of produce companies that don’t comply.

It will cost an estimated $1.4 billion to effectively implement the law, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

“If they don’t have the capacity to enforce it, the law is not going to be worth the paper it’s written on,” said Tony Corbo, senior lobbyist for the Washington-based consumer advocacy group Food & Water Watch.

To study key aspects of the lengthy and detailed Food Safety Modernization Act, click here to access highlights on Document Cloud.

Comments are closed.