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Food Poisoning Prevention Rules Issued by FDA Target Imports, Produce

Government food safety officials have released a series of new rules that are designed to regulate imported foods and produce, in an attempt to reduce the risk of food poisoning outbreaks in the U.S. 

Last week, the FDA announced three new major food safety rules to catch and prevent foodborne illness outbreaks before products reach the United States.

The new rules establish enforceable safety standards for produce farms and food importers to adopt science-based contamination prevention methods, food sampling and testing requirements, and to allow for third party auditors to certify facilities are meeting FDA food safety requirements.

The FDA released the new rules amid a highly active year in the U.S. involving imported foodborne illness outbreaks. FDA Deputy Commissioner Michael Taylor cited the recent multi-state Salmonella outbreak caused by imported cucumbers, which has killed four and hospitalized over 150 consumers.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are an estimated 48 million people sickened each year from food poisoning. An estimated one out of six Americans get sick each year, almost 130,000 are hospitalized, and about 3,000 people die annually from all foodborne related illnesses.

“The FDA is working with partners across the government and industry to prevent foodborne outbreaks,” Taylor said in the press release. “The rules will help better protect consumers from foodborne illness and strengthen their confidence that modern preventive practices are in place, no matter where in the world the food is produced.”

The three rules released in the FDA’s statement on Friday include the Produce Safety Rule, the Foreign Supplier Verification Program, and the Accredited Third-Party Certification rule.

The Produce Safety Rule requires importers to establish science-based standards for growing, harvesting, packing, and shipping. Included in these rules are standards on water quality, employee health and hygiene, wild and domesticated animals, compost and manure samples, and equipment, tools, and buildings. The list of rules and standards included in the Produce Safety Rule are designed to help remove and mitigate any or all possible threats of dangerous bacteria contaminating imported produce.

The Foreign Supplier Verification Program will require food importers to verify foreign suppliers are producing food that meets the U.S. safety standards. It requires importers to conduct audits of the supplier’s facility including sampling and testing of food as well as review of the supplier’s relevant food safety records.

The finalized rule on Accredited Third-Party Certification establishes a program for the accreditation of third-party certifications auditors to conduct food safety audits and verify foreign food facilities are following acceptable FDA food safety requirements. This rule allows the FDA to require specific food imported to be accompanied by a third-party certification ensuring it is safe to enter the U.S.

All of the new rules are the result of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). The ultimate goal is to use the nation’s technology and experience to help farmers and food businesses successfully produce safe foods for import. According to the FDA, these are three of seven major rules that will shape the new FSMA guidelines.

FDA officials say it is important for there to be strict guidelines and that these rules systematically strengthen the food safety system and better protect the public from imported goods. The United Stated Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimated that in 2013, 19% of the food supplied in the U.S. was imported. Additionally, 52% of the fresh fruits were imported along with 22% of the country’s vegetables.

The rules were not solely established by the governing agencies. The final rules were established after holding conferences and meetings with farmers, stakeholders, and taking consideration into public comments. Taylor added in the press release that the agency is confident the new rules will help prevent disease from entering the U.S., but said the success of the rules are contingent on funding from the Obama Administration’s 2016 budget request.

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