How will you and your family be protected by the new actions the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is taking to keep your food safe?
The first two of seven rules proposed to implement the landmark FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) (the preventive controls rules for human and animal food—meaning food companies will apply greater controls to prevent hazards) are now final. The additional rules will become final through 2016.
What does that mean for you? Here are five ways your life will be touched by the FSMA rules.
1. Food companies will apply greater controls to help prevent hazards.
“Rather than just react to outbreaks, we are requiring food facilities to take measures to prevent them from the get-go,” says Jenny Scott, M.S., a senior advisor in FDA’s Office of Food Safety. Food facilities will need to think upfront about what could be harmful to consumers, and then put controls in place to minimize or prevent those hazards.
For example, Scott says the facilities could take steps to kill bacteria that cause foodborne illness or to prevent them from growing in food. If allergens (substances that can cause an allergic reaction) are a hazard, the facility could pay particular attention to how equipment is cleaned when it is used for more than one product so that allergens aren’t transferred from one food to another, and ensure that the product label identifies the presence of food allergens. Unidentified food allergens are a major cause of food recalls by industry.
2. You and your pet get protections from tainted animal food.
With the Preventive Controls for Animal Food rule, the second final rule released today, “the same up-front thinking now required of human food manufacturing will also apply to manufacturers of animal food, including pet food,” says Dan McChesney, Ph.D., director of the Office of Surveillance and Compliance in FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine.
If pet food manufacturers have methods in place to kill harmful bacteria, it will be much safer for both the pet and for anyone handling the food, McChesney says.
With a new prevention-oriented system in place, the FDA expects reductions in the risk of serious illness and death to animals when hazards, such as harmful levels of substances in a product, are controlled, McChesney says.
3. Eating healthfully and eating safely will go hand-in-hand.
The final Produce Safety rule, which will be issued this fall, will create safeguards to help prevent illnesses in ways that are appropriate for farms.
“Farms, unlike factories, are open environments,” says Samir Assar, Ph.D., director of FDA’s Division of Produce Safety. “There are elements we understand that farms can’t necessarily control.” However, there are actions that can, and must, be taken to minimize the likelihood of contamination in ways that are practical and feasible for growers.
Farming conditions and methods for growing the same crop can differ widely from state to state and coast to coast, so the new regulations will focus on major conduits of contamination that are common to all or most farming environments, says Assar. For example, standards have been proposed for agricultural water, farm worker hygiene or cleanliness, compost and sanitation conditions affecting buildings, equipment, and tools. These standards will apply to both domestic and imported produce.
The FDA anticipates that the produce rule as proposed would prevent hundreds of thousands of illnesses caused by produce each year.
4. There will be greater oversight of foods imported from other countries.
We import a lot of food. In 2013, 19 percent of our overall food supply was imported from other countries, including 80 percent of our seafood, nearly 52 percent of our fresh fruit, and 22 percent of our fresh vegetables.
The rules specifically affecting imports—Foreign Supplier Verification Programs (FSVP) and Third Party Certification—are scheduled to become final the fall of 2015, enhancing our oversight of imported foods.
“The FSVP rule, when finalized, will require importers to assume greater responsibility to verify that the foods they import into the United States meet the same safety standards required of domestic producers,” says senior policy advisor Brian Pendleton, J.D.
5. Consumers like you will be more confident that their food is safe.
“Up until now, everything has been reactive,” says Darin Detwiler, senior policy coordinator for the advocacy group STOP Foodborne Illness. ”This is the most sweeping food safety legislation passed within the last 70 years.”
Today's action is the first in a series of steps FDA is taking over the next several months to move the food safety system from reactive to proactive prevention.