FDA rules focus on prevention rather than reaction

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has proposed two new food safety rules that the agency says will help prevent foodborne illness. The proposed rules, part of implementing the Food Safety Modernization Act, build on prevention rather than on reaction to contamination problems. The first proposed rule requires that food makers have plans to prevent foodborne illness and also requires that they have plans for correcting problems, said FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg. She adds that the second rule proposes science- and risk-based standards for safe production and harvesting of produce.

“The solution to the problem of food borne illness is a comprehensive prevention strategy that involves all participants in the food system, domestic and foreign, doing their part to minimize the likelihood of harmful contamination,” said Hamburg, on a conference call with reporters Friday. 

Rules coming soon will require similar standards for imported food, according to Dr. Michael Taylor, FDA deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine.

“This will give us, FDA, a much stronger framework for overseeing the safety of imports, so we’re shifting from FDA examining the product at the port of entry and reacting to problems, to being able to verify the importers have prevented problems; and so that’s an integral part of the system,” said Taylor. “Expect that to be coming forward shortly.”

There is a provision that some small farms that sell more than half their produce directly to consumers or local retailers will be exempt from the rule; however Taylor says problems with those farms could lead to a revocation of that exemption.

The FDA will also propose rules for animal food facilities similar to the preventive rule proposed for human food.

One in six people is sickened each year by food borne illness, according to the FDA. Of those, 130,000 go the hospital, and 3,000 die.

From the time the final rule is published, large farms will have 26 months to comply; small and very small farms will have additional time to comply.

The agency is soliciting public comment on the rules.

AUDIO: FDA Conference Call (45 min. MP3)

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