For the first time in 70 years, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released two major requirements for improving food safety.
On Friday, the FDA released two draft rule proposals for food safety that will allow the FDA to shift its focus on preventing, rather than simply reacting, to food borne illnesses. Despite the delay, public health advocates heralded the proposals as a major step in implementing the landmark FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) that President Obama signed into law two years ago, giving the FDA one year to put the first policies in place.
The regulations are needed, as evidenced by the series of dangerous food safety slip-ups in recent years that required recalls of spinach, cantaloupe, sprouts, turkey and ground beef with microbes ranging from salmonella to E. coli and listeria, as well as the FDA’s shut-down of the organic peanut butter plant Sunland Inc. in New Mexico, which produced salmonella-tainted peanut butter that sickened 42 consumers nationwide.
“We have one of the safest food supplies in the world, but we have work to do to stop food borne illnesses before they start,” Dr. Margaret Hamburg, commissioner of the FDA said in a press conference. “While the FDA responds very quickly and effectively in response to outbreaks, containing them and finding their source and taking other necessary actions, we really need to do more than react after the fact. Preventing problems before they cause harm is not only common sense, it is the key to food safety in the 21st century.”
The regulations, the first reforms in food safety in more than 70 years, are designed to address gaps in food production and manufacturing processes that leave an estimated 48 million Americans sick each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While not all of these illnesses are reported, the FDA says that nearly 130,000 people who contract a food-related disease are hospitalized and 3,000 die from the illness. So when the deadline to issue regulatory rules in 2012 came and went, two nonprofit organizations, the Center for Food Safety and The Center for Environmental Health criticized the agency for unreasonable delays and filed a lawsuit.
Public health and food safety supporters welcome the proposals, and are hopeful the FDA will continue to move forward as quickly as possible."This is just the beginning, and there is more stuff right behind it in line for approval," says Sandy Eskin, director of the Safe Food Campaign for the Pew Health Group. "This took a long time to get passed and may take a while to get it all implemented, but it is a big step. You can be very frustrated because things are moving slowly, but nothing is more frustrating than if things are not moving at all."