New food safety rules offered by the FDA

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This past Friday, the Food and Drug Administration released two proposed rules designed to boost the safety of the nation's food supply a move coming after a series of high-profile recalls including cantaloupes in 2011 that killed 33 people, salmonella in peanut products, and a string of E. coli-related recalls involving beef.

The proposed rules were issued two years after president Obama signed the Food Safety Modernization Act into law, which gives the FDA broader power to require that food facilities develop food safety plans, as well as new authority to recall tainted food.

One rule covers operations at fruit and vegetable farms, focusing on those foods that we eat raw and have been the subject of several recent recalls, such as leafy greens, tomatoes, melons, herbs, etc. It would require worker safety training, hand washing and monitoring the presence of animals in the field that could spread illness. The other proposed rule would require food processors to develop and follow detailed plans for preventing contamination of their products.

These new rules really set the basic framework for a modern, science-based approach to food safety and shift us from a strategy of reacting to problems to a strategy for preventing problems, says Michael R. Taylor, the FDA s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine.

But ACSH s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan and ACSH staffer Cheryl Martin are not exactly impressed by the proposed changes. It all seems very basic and simplistic to me, and not necessarily proactive or enforceable says Ms Martin. I agree, says Dr. Whelan. Isn t it common knowledge to wash one s hands and practice basic hygiene while working in food preparation? Overall I wouldn t be overly optimistic that these new regulations will be groundbreaking.

Although the regulations may seem simplistic, says ACSH s Dr. Ruth Kava, the recent string of outbreaks of food contamination shows that not everyone is aware of or choosing to abide by these generic standards of hygiene. Now they will have to. Further, the new regulations will require a paper trail allowing the FDA to more precisely pinpoint a source of contamination at least in theory.