Two new bills on U.S. food safety law were introduced last year with the aim of putting the spotlight on preventive controls.
The bills will also introduce changes that will impact the food industry and also food processors globally.
That was the message from David Acheson MD of Utah-based Leavitt Partners in a presentation at I.E. Canada’s 5th Annual Food Forum in Mississauga, Ont. in February.
Recalls shake consumer confidence
As Acheson explains, the series of recent high-profile recalls and outbreaks – hepatitis A in green onions, E. coli in spinach, E. coli 0157 in cookie dough, Salmonella in peanut butter, and deliberate contamination of dairy products with melamine – have led to decreasing consumer confidence in the safety of the food supply. And this has prompted the U.S. government to act.
With the system as it stands now there is a lack of required preventive controls, a lack of understanding of risks, an inability to track products back quickly and forward quickly, lack of consistent standards and cases of deliberate contamination.
Also, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), for instance, doesn’t always know who manufactures which product.
And with current regulations, companies can withhold critical testing data when inspectors arrive to assess their sites. Acheson adds there’s little deterrence in terms of civil and criminal penalties.
New bills to address food safety issues
With a view to addressing these issues and making changes, both the U.S. House and Senate each introduced a bill. The House introduced the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009 (H.R. 2749) in June 2009, and the Senate introduced the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (S. 510) in March 2009.
What processors will be expected to do
For food processors they’ll be expected to fulfil several requirements. For instance, each facility will have to be registered either annually or bi-annually.
The House bill is also proposing fees for each registered facility at US$500 per facility up to a maximum of US$175,000 per company.
Every registered firm will have to conduct a Hazard Analysis, including evaluating for any hazards due to the source of ingredients. They’ll be expected to implement and validate effective preventive controls, monitor them and institute corrective actions. They’ll also have to conduct verification activities, maintain records of all these steps and reanalyze for hazards.
Firms will also be expected to develop and implement food plans before shipping.
The FDA is mandated to inspect every facility and will do so every six to 18 months for high-risk processors and every 18 months to three years for low-risk processors.
Acheson says that right now processors don’t have to show FDA inspectors their records but the law will change on this point.
When it comes to traceability, firms will have to provide a whole previous distribution history. And firms will be prohibited from delaying or refusing inspection.
Acheson predicts the industry will see more outbreaks being identified in the future, but this will be because the FDA “is getting better at identifying them” and is being more proactive.