After a series of debates, delays and revamps, President Obama signed the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act into law Jan. 4. Its successful advancement through the House of Representatives and the Senate was hailed as an unusual and gratifying show of bipartisanship, and its signing brought about a long-awaited end to a thorny issue.
The act brings the first major updates to food-safety legislation in more than 70 years. It authorizes the hiring of 17,800 new FDA inspectors and gives the agency sweeping new powers, which include the authority to order a mandatory recall, the ratcheting up of standards for imported food and better tracking of fruit and vegetable shipments. It is hoped this will lead to safer ingredients and quicker recalls, reducing the number of cases of food poisoning and shifting the recall responsibility from the retailer to the FDA.
Local restaurants and food retailers, such as bakeries, will remain under the jurisdiction of their city and county health departments. Additionally, the act exempts food producers and farmers with revenues of less than $500,000 who sell their products directly to consumers, restaurants and retail food establishments within the same state or a 275-mile radius of the production area. Facilities not exempt, which may include larger specialty wholesalers, must abide by the new regulations set forth in the act, which include writing a food-safety plan (HARPC plan) that details the food-safety risks present at the facility, preventative controls the facility will follow to prevent contamination and corrective actions the facility will take if contamination occurs.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in six Americans fall ill each year due to food poisoning, and 3,000 die annually from foodborne diseases.
The full text of the act is available at www.govtrack.us.