Federal health regulators have proposed two new rules that would require all food manufacturers to take certain steps designed to reduce the risk of food poisoning outbreaks and would place new regulations on the harvesting of fruits and vegetables.
The FDA announced the proposed rules on January 4, and placed notices for public comment in the federal register.
The two proposed rules are the “Current Good Manufacturing Practice and Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls for Human Food” and the “Standards for the Growing, Harvesting, Packing, and Holding of Produce for Human Consumption.” The rules are among the first efforts by the FDA to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) passed into law on January 4, 2012.
Preventative Controls for Human Food Rule
The proposed rule for preventative controls for human food would put into place new safety requirements for facilities that process, package, or store food meant for human consumption.
Each facility would be required to have a written plan that evaluates the risk of food poisoning and allergens, lays out how those risks will be handled and how the prevention programs will be monitored. The facilities would also be required to keep records on their prevention practices, and would also lay out a plan for how to deal with food poisoning outbreaks, contamination, and other problems that may arise.
According to the FDA, about 166,000 registered domestic food facilities would be affected by the proposed rule. It would include manufacturers, food processors, warehouses, storage tanks, and grain elevators. The FDA will evaluate each plan and continue to inspect those facilities for problems.
Produce Safety Rule
The proposed rule on produce safety will set new standards on farms that produce fruits and vegetables for irrigation, farm worker hygiene, the use of soil additives (such as manure), dealing with the intrusion of animals in the growing fields and sanitary conditions that could affect buildings, equipment, and tools. The rule will have special provisions for sprouts, which have been the subject of numerous incidents of food poisoning outbreaks.
The FDA hopes the new rules will help reduce the number of food poisoning illnesses in the United States. The agency estimates that one in six Americans fall victim to food poisoning each year, with 130,000 hospitalized annually, and 3,000 killed by contaminated food.
Officials have suggested that reducing that number of illnesses will not only save lives, but would also affect the cost of health care and prevent disruptions to the country’s food distribution network caused by responding to outbreaks after they have begun.
The FDA anticipates proposing three more laws in the near future to meet the agency’s new FSMA obligations, including a rule that will require safety verification of foreign suppliers, certification of third-party food auditors in foreign countries, and preventative controls for food meant for animal consumption.
The public comment period for the proposed rules is 120 days, after which the FDA will consider the public input before moving forward with final rule promulgation.