FDA proposes new food safety rules

Sweeping new food safety rules – or at least some of them -- have finally been released to the public, two years to the day after President Obama signed the Food Safety Modernization Act into law.

The food industry cautiously applauded the arrival of the proposed rules on Jan. 4, according to The New York Times, “with most companies and industry groups noting that they would be poring over them and making comments as necessary in the coming weeks.” USA Today said food safety advocates and the food industry are "thrilled."

This initial proposal comes in two parts that cover food production-facility safety and fruit and vegetable safety on the farm and in the packing shed.

Three more rules are pending and should be issued shortly, according to Mike Taylor, the Food and Drug Administration’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine. These are expected to include guidelines on imported food and preventative controls for animal feed.

As for the two rules announced today, Reuters explained:

Under the new rules, makers of food to be sold in the United States, whether produced at a foreign- or domestic-based facility, would have to develop a formal plan for preventing their products from causing foodborne illness.

The rule would also require them to have plans for correcting any problems that arise.

Companies will be required to document their plans and keep records to verify that they are preventing problems. Inspectors will be able to audit the program to enforce safety standards, which should "dramatically" improve the effectiveness of inspections, (the FDA’s Mike) Taylor said.

Though many food processors already have documented food safety plans, the new rule sets requirements for "all firms across all commodities," he said.

A second rule proposes safety standard requirements for farms that produce and harvest fruits and vegetables. Farms would be required to meet national standards for the quality of water applied to their crops, as water is often a pathway for pathogens.

Implementing the new rules will add costs for some food companies and farms, Taylor said. As well, the FDA will need money to retrain inspectors and implement the rules, Taylor said.