Food Safety Finally a Focus for the FDA

Kids eating ice cream

Food safety experts breathed a sigh of relief last week when the FDA announced the proposal of two highly anticipated additions to the Food Safety Modernization Act, which went into effect in early 2011.

Deputy commissioner of the FDA, Michael Taylor delivered the news, last week at a press briefing, approximately a year after the announcements were expected. The rules would target the prevention of foodborne illnesses via produce and processed foods—two categories that have been the cause of several serious outbreaks in recent years. Approximately 1 out of every 6 Americans will become sick from contaminated food every year.

According to the New York Times, the proposed FDA rules “represent a sea change in the way the agency polices food, a process that currently involves taking action after contamination has been identified. It is a long-awaited step toward codifying the food safety law that Congress passed two years ago.” The agency, which is understaffed and underfunded, oversees nearly 80 percent of the nation’s food supply (the also-underfunded USDA covers the rest).

The FDA would now require manufacturers of processed foods to have plans for mitigating foodborne illnesses. Among the requirements: better record keeping by producers and processors, as well as measures that would be designed to diminish the spread of contaminations before they sicken consumers. And contingency plans for dealing with outbreaks would also be enforced. According to the Times, “While food producers would have latitude in determining how to execute the rules, farmers would have to ensure that water used in irrigation met certain standards and food processors would need to find ways to keep fresh food that may contain bacteria from coming into contact with food that has been cooked. ”  This speaks directly to sanitation in the farm as well as in the factory—better bathrooms and hand-washing stations and ways to control animal feces from contaminating fields.

But the proposals need funding—and that’s a big, looming concern that may keep Congress from supporting the proposals. President Obama requested the approval of $220 million from his 2013 budget in order to implement the measures, but as of yet, his request has not been approved.

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Image: Alex E. Proimos

Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites and, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better.