Our VoiceHealth & Environment

Finally time for food safety?

Jessica Acee • Jan 09, 2013

On Friday the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released two new, but long awaited, food safety rules that are part of Obama’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which passed two years ago.

Food safety advocates have heralded the law as a giant step forward. Caroline Smith DeWaal, Food Safety Director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said in a statement, “The new law should transform the FDA from an agency that tracks down outbreaks after the fact, to an agency focused on preventing food contamination in the first place.”

If that is the case, this is certainly a celebratory step forward.  An estimated 50 million Americans contract a foodborne illness every year and it is hard to deny that we are living off a poisoned food system.  The Food Safety Modernization Act was the first of its kind in over 70 years.  These two new regulations are part of a package of rules including three others that we are still forthcoming. Why did it take two years to get this far?  It appears that the Obama administration held back its release until after the election.  Two advocacy groups were so frustrated waiting for these two rules that they sued the Obama administration for failing to act.

USA Today lays out the new requirements like this.

For fruit and vegetable safety:

  • Farmers ensure irrigation water that touches fruits and vegetables isn’t contaminated with dangerous organisms.
  • The water used to wash fruits and vegetables in packing sheds must be clean.
  • Farm workers must be provided with basic sanitation facilities that include a place to wash their hands.
  • Growers must implement controls for microbial hazards that are associated with animals that may enter growing fields.
  • Manure and other material used as fertilizer must be sufficiently composted or treated to kill dangerous organisms.
  • Packing sheds must be free from standing water and packing equipment must be easy to clean.

For food-processing facilities:

  • Determine possible places where food could become contaminated.
  • Figure out systems to keep that from happening.
  • Check to make sure those systems work.
  • Be able to show proof of functioning systems to the FDA.

The regulations are over 1000 pages long, so much still needs to be learned about the new rules, but there are serious concerns about the cost of enforcement. Not only will it be expensive to verify compliance, but the FDA will need to train its own staff to carry out the mandate.  The cost will be steep and numbers are hard to find.  President Obama needs to put money towards enforcement if the FSMA is really going to make a difference for food workers and consumers.

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