Rules targeted at foodborne illness to be implemented

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that rules designed to increase food safety and decrease foodborne illness are nearing implementation.

The Food Safety Modernization Act of 2010 was heralded as the most significant overhaul of food safety in decades. The act was signed by President Obama on January 4, 2010, but implementation has been delayed by the review process for the last two years.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius stated, “The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act is a common-sense law that shifts the food safety focus from reactive to preventive.”

The new regulations involve food production-facility safety and safety of produce on farms and in the packing sheds. According to Mike Taylor, FDA deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, three more rules are expected to be issued in the near future. Taylor called the release of the new regulations the beginning of “a new era,” stating that “[w]e should have fewer outbreaks, fewer illness and less disruption of the food supply.”

Regulations directed as safer imported food are expected in the coming months. Olsen said rules concerning imported products are crucial since over 15% of the U.S. food supply is imported every year, and that number increases by approximately 10% every year.

Had the regulations not been delayed for the past two years, experts believe that two major foodborne illness outbreaks would have been very different. In last year’s salmonella outbreak from contaminated peanut butter, at least 42 individuals in 20 states became ill. According to DeWaal, the producer of the peanut products knew of contamination in the plant, but was not required to notify anyone of the contamination and “FDA wasn’t able to review them.” The new regulations “will protect against incidents where companies have tried to hide records that showed that their plants are contaminated.”

The second significant outbreak was the 2011 listeria outbreak from contaminated cantaloupes that resulted in the deaths of at least 29 people. In 2011, there was no requirement that water used in the packing shed to wash the melons be free from dangerous microbes. The new rules will require companies to test wash water to make certain the water is clean.

Foodborne illness affects approximately one in six Americans annually, resulting in 130,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths.

For more information, contact the Ohio foodborne illness attorneys at Clark, Perdue & List. 

Source: USA Today, “‘New era’ in food-safety rules to be dished out,” Elizabeth Weise, January 4, 2013.