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U.S. overhauls its food safety system

U.S. signs new food safety act into law


In the U.S. on Jan. 4 President Obama signed the Food Safety Modernization Act into law.

Some have called the act the biggest food-safety overhaul in more than 70 years.

The White House blogs says the historic legislation directs the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to build a new system of food safety oversight – one focused on applying science and common sense to prevent the problems that can make consumers sick.

The blog goes onto explain that the idea of prevention is not new. The FDA has established prevention-oriented standards and rules for seafood, juice and eggs, as has the U.S. Department of Agriculture for meat and poultry, and many in the food industry have pioneered best practices for prevention.

What is new is that the Act recognizes a breakdown at any point on the farm-to-table spectrum can cause catastrophic harm to the health of consumers and great disruption and economic loss to the food industry.

The new law will mean processors of all types of food are required to:

• Evaluate the hazards in their operations;
• Implement and monitor effective measures to prevent contamination; and
• Have a plan in place to take any corrective actions that are necessary.

Also, the FDA will have mandatory recall authority when needed to swiftly remove contaminated food from the market.

The FDA will also for the first time have a congressional mandate for risk-based inspection of food processing facilities.  For example, all high-risk domestic facilities must be inspected within five years of enactment and no less than every three years thereafter.
Importers

The legislation significantly enhances the FDA’s ability to oversee the millions of food products coming into the U.S. from other countries each year.

Among the improvements is the requirement that importers verify the safety of food from their suppliers and the authority for the FDA to block foods from facilities or countries that refuse our inspection.

The FDA will also be working more closely with foreign governments and increasing its inspection of foreign food facilities.  FDA’s new import tool kit will have a huge impact on food safety given that an estimated 15 per cent of the U.S. food supply is imported, including 60 per cent of fresh fruits and vegetables and 80 per cent of seafood.

The Act also calls for the strengthening of existing collaboration among all food safety agencies whether they are federal, state, local, territorial, tribal, or foreign. Among other provisions, the legislation directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services to improve training of state, local, territorial and tribal food safety officials and authorizes grants for training, conducting inspections, building capacity of labs and food safety programs, and other food safety activities.  Building and leveraging the capacity of these food safety partners is how we can have a well-integrated, national food safety system that is as effective and efficient as it can be.

The White House calls the Act a sea change for food safety in America, bringing a new focus on prevention.