The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is looking to establish rules aimed at limiting food contamination, regulations the agency says are necessary to cope with an increasingly complicated food landscape.
“Today’s food supply is highly diverse and increasingly complex, with many new foods in the marketplace that pose new food safety challenges,” the FDA wrote in a prepublication summary for the Federal Register. “New pathogens are emerging, and we are seeing commonly known pathogens appear in foods where they have not been traditionally seen. The population of individuals at greater risk for foodborne illness, such as those who are immune-compromised, is increasing.”
One in six Americans will suffer food poisoning this year, according to the FDA. Most will not have to deal with anything more serious than a few unpleasant days, but some people may suffer more serious consequences such as brain damage, chronic arthritis, kidney failure, and death.
Recent years have seen widespread safety recalls of contaminated eggs, peanut butter, spinach, and other products, which prompted calls to modernize American food-safety laws. In 2011, President Barack Obama signed into law the Food Safety Modernization Act, or FSMA, giving the FDA the authority to order recalls of contaminated food and to implement stricter preventive controls.
The only exceptions to the FDA's regulatory powers are meat, poultry, and processed eggs, which fall under the authority of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Thanks to its new FSMA authority, the FDA is looking to establish five new rules for farmers, food companies, and food importers. The first two proposals were published Friday. One deals with new preventive safety measures for facilities that process, package, or store food for humans, and the other is specifically aimed at new standards for produce.
The first new rule would require U.S.-based food facilities to have written plans for how they would deal with pathogens in their products.
“While the plan will come from the food companies, the planning and execution are done under the watchful eye of FDA,” agency food-safety adviser Donald Kraemer said in a statement Friday. “The agency will evaluate the plans and will continue to inspect the facilities.”
New produce-safety rules would touch on various aspects of farming that can transfer contamination, such as farm-worker hygiene, facility sanitation, manure, water irrigation, and wild animals.
Some kinds of produce will be more closely scrutinized than others -- vegetables that are commonly cooked before eating, like potatoes, would probably be less subject to the stricter food-safety rules, FDA Deputy Commissioner Michael Taylor told the New York Times.
“We were directed by Congress to establish risk-based standards that are practical, and we think this approach targets what will be significant from a public-health standpoint,” Taylor said. “If we get evidence to the contrary, we will make adjustments.”
The FDA said that in the course of crafting the new rules, its staffers have traveled across the country and talked with a wide variety of farm operators.
“We met with Amish growers in the Ohio valley, organic and sustainable farmers throughout the nation’s heartland, small farmer cooperative members who supply major metropolitan areas, and large commercial growers and shippers,” Kraemer said.
The public can submit comments on the two proposed rules until May 16.
The FDA expects to propose three more food-safety rules that will deal with foreign food suppliers, third-party food-safety auditor accreditation, and food-safety measures for animal food.