Companies now have additional responsibilities for policing the food they import. It has been five years since Congress passed the landmark law meant to prevent the importation of contaminated food. To make the law more concrete, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently made amendments and added new rules that, for the first time, demand companies to take the responsibility for policing the food they import. The rules also include new safety standards for produce that has been growing on American farms.
As per the new rules, importers will have to show that the food they bring into the United States meets all the American safety standards. As part of these requirements, companies will have to hire third-party auditors to check the quality of food at foreign facilities. Though some customers argue that this might give companies too much discretion, federal officials believe that this is the set standard for the food industry and has to be kept in mind by the importers.
This is the first time importers have fallen directly under FDA regulation. Michael Taylor, the agency’s Deputy Commissioner and Chief Advisor, told reporters that this is a big step forward. The decision was taken after the sudden outbreak of salmonella in imported cucumbers that killed four Americans and hospitalized more than 150. They said that this is the exact kind of situation they are trying to avoid.
The safety of the food supply is an extremely critical issue. As per the reports, one out of six Americans falls ill after eating contaminated food each year. A total of 128,000 people are hospitalized, and 3,000 die on an estimated basis. The produce rule also sets standards for growing, harvesting, packing, and storing produce on farms. The requirements need to be fulfilled for water quality, employee health, hygiene, manure, and compost use.
The new rules were praised by suppliers and consumers alike. Everybody supports the need for proper food safety. FDA keeps a check on imported foods, but it can manage only 1 or 2 percent of imported food. The bottom line is, imported food will have someone who is ensuring its safety now. The FDA knows that since it cannot control how the food is made on non-American farms, the next best solution is to enhance the checks here. The agenda is to assure on par standards and make sure only safe food comes to America.
Some critics are still worried and believe that the system will not be extremely rigorous. As the companies will hire a third-party auditor themselves, standardization of the process will be difficult, but Food and Drug Administration officials believe that standardization is necessary. The practice is already followed by many people in the industry, but once the norm is included in the law, they will assure better checks. The focus is also on making a permanent paradigm shift. In the end, instead of the FDA conducting checks on sampled industries, industries will be able to do it on a larger basis.