Sweeping Food Safety Reform Signed into Law
January 04, 2011 - News

WASHINGTON—President Obama on late Tuesday signed into law the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), the largest overhaul of U.S. food safety laws in more than 70 years. The $1.4 billion legislation makes sweeping improvements to the security and safety of our nation’s food supply by giving  the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the authority to order product recalls, requiring food manufacturers to keep more detailed food safety plans, allowing FDA greater access to food company records and other provisions.

FDA will work with a wide range of public and private partners to build a new system of food safety oversight focused on applying the best available science and good common sense to prevent the problems that can make people sick.

According to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, foodborne illness strikes 48 million Americans, hospitalizing 100,000 and killing thousands each year.

All food processors will be 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. FDA also will have much more effective enforcement tools for ensuring those plans are adequate and properly implemented, including mandatory recall authority when needed to swiftly remove contaminated food from the market.

FDA will establish science-based standards for the safe production and harvesting of fruits and vegetables to minimize the risk of serious illnesses or death, and will set standards for the safe transportation of food. FDA will for the first time have a congressional mandate for risk-based inspection of food processing facilities.

The bill calls for the FDA to inspect at least 600 foreign food facilities within a year of enactment, and double its number of foreign inspections in each subsequent year for five years. The measure would require inspections every three years for U.S. manufacturing and processing plants the FDA views to be at a high risk for contamination, and every five years for all other domestic facilities. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), 50,000 foreign and domestic food facilities would be inspected in 2015 by FDA or federal, state, local or foreign officials acting on FDA’s behalf.

The legislation significantly enhances FDA’s ability to oversee the millions of food products coming into the United States from other countries each year. Hamburg said 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. FDA also will work 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 percent of the U.S. food supply is imported, including 60 percent of fresh fruits and vegetables and 80 percent of seafood.

Finally, the legislation calls for the strengthening of existing collaboration among all food safety agencies whether they are federal, state, local, territorial, tribal or foreign. The legislation also 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.

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