The Obama administration moved ahead Friday with the first major overhaul of the nation’s food-safety system in more than 70 years, proposing tough new standards for fruit and vegetable producers and food manufacturers.
The long-awaited proposals by the Food and Drug Administration are part of a fundamental change aimed at preventing food-borne outbreaks — caused by everything from leafy greens to cantaloupes to peanut butter — rather than simply reacting to them. Every year, contaminated foods sicken an estimated 48 million Americans and kill 3,000.
The rules, which span 1,200 pages, are aimed at creating safer conditions from farm to fork. Produce farmers would be required to ensure that their crops aren’t contaminated by bad water or animal waste. Some will likely be compelled to build fences to keep out wildlife and to provide adequate restrooms and hand-washing facilities for field workers.
Food-processing companies would be required to design and document an exhaustive regimen of sanitary measures — from pest control to bathroom cleanliness to what workers wear on the factory floor.
FDA officials and consumer advocates say the rules are essential to laying the groundwork for a major revamping of the country’s food safety system.
These rules "are the heart and soul of the law," said Sandra Eskin, director of the Food Safety Campaign at the Pew Charitable Trusts. "These are the priorities. Everything else flows from them."
More proposed rules are expected to be issued soon, including ones that would require that imported foods comply with U.S. safety standards. The FDA also plans to propose rules involving the production of animal foods.
It could be years before the proposals become final regulations. The FDA will take comments on the proposals for four months and then probably make changes. And some farms will have two years or more to comply with the rules.