The Food and Drug Administration authority fulfilled long-anticipated rules that provide the agency with an extensive understanding of the produce industry, as well as imported foods, to help prevent foodborne illness outbursts.
The regulations, issued on Friday, marked a leap forward in the government’s implementation of a law passed by the Congress in 2010. This proved to be a tremendous overhaul for the federal food-safety oversight—the biggest in almost 100 years.
“Since FSMA was signed by President Obama in January of 2011, teams of FDA experts have been working with extraordinary dedication and resourcefulness to craft the seven major rules needed to carry out the Congressional mandate for food safety system that is up to the challenges of today’s global food system,” said Michael Taylor, deputy commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine for the FD.
For the very first time, the produce rule has established federal measures and standards for how fruits and vegetables are grown, harvested, packed, and stored in order to minimize contamination risks. It is mandatory that farmers test the water they are using to raise crops for the presence of potentially harmful bacteria, as well as take steps such as training workers on health and hygiene practices and inspecting fields for wildlife encroachment.
“FDA is engaging in regulatory activity where we haven’t done it before,” said Michael Taylor in an interview. The rules help complete the “farm-to-table comprehensive system of prevention.”
However, critics of the existing system argue that the FDA has usually failed to take meaningful action until food contamination has already occurred. The FDA has claimed it requires $260 million, including $109.5 million for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1st. President Barack Obama requested that amount, but appropriations bills in both the House and Senate included just $41.5 million and $45 million, respectively, for fiscal 2016, when all the rules will be finalized.
The agreed produce rule will be effective for larger-scale farms in exactly two years’ time, although smaller farms have a sufficiently longer time to act in accordance. Some importers will have to comply with their new regulation 18 months after the final rule is published in the Federal Register.
James Gorny, vice president of food safety for the Produce Marketing Association, commended the FDA for introducing what he calls mostly common-sense regulations. However, he remained worried that the requirement for produce farms to regularly test water for E. coli bacteria would be extremely costly for smaller growers.
The new rules were happily embraced and welcomed by organic food growers and distributors. The FDA stepped back from an earlier proposal to prohibit organic-food growers from applying raw manure to crop fields less than nine months before harvest. Organic growers had rejected the nine-month proposal, saying it was burdensome and wouldn’t enhance food safety. Now, the new rules allow the continuation of the ongoing practices of spreading raw manure on organic-food fields up to 90 days before harvest.
Food-safety proponents claimed that the import rule could help guard and prevent against salmonella outbreaks like one in September, when imported Mexican cucumbers were linked to more than 700 illnesses and four deaths in the US.