Proper washing and treatment of produce like spinach, shown here, helps reduce the spread of bacteria and food-borne illnesses.
On Friday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released two proposals to improve food safety. The regulations are a response to a series of recent food-borne illnesses. The FDA hopes these new rules will prevent problems with food in the earliest phase of production, before the contaminated food could cause consumers to get sick. “We have one of the safest food supplies in the world,” said Dr. Margaret Hamburg, the commissioner of the FDA, in a press conference. “But we have to stop food borne illnesses before they start.”
Over the past decade, food-safety issues have caused many people to get sick. Foods like spinach, ground beef and cantaloupe have been recalled, or sent back to producers, because they were found to contain germs and bacteria that cause illness.
Among the most common problems are salmonella and E.coli, dangerous bacteria that cause stomach pain and food poisoning. Often these sicknesses occur when food is undercooked or improperly prepared. While not all illnesses are reported, the FDA estimates that nearly 130,000 Americans a year are hospitalized for food-related problems.
The two new rules proposed by the FDA are called the Preventative Controls for Human Food and Standards for Produce Safety. Each rule is described in detail on the FDA’s website. Readers can submit comments, which the FDA will use as feedback to make future adjustments to the proposal.
The first rule demands that manufacturers selling food in the U.S. must have formal plans for preventing contamination and for fixing problems when they occur. This regulation applies to food produced in the U.S. and overseas.
The second rule is specific to foods that are eaten raw, like salad greens and fruit. It requires strict standards for growing, harvesting, packing and holding fruits and vegetables. Workers must take extra care with washing produce and making sure the materials used in growing soils, like fertilizers and manure, are safe and free of contaminants. The processing and farming equipment used for food production also must be properly sanitized.
The FDA believes these new rules will not just improve Americans’ health and well being, but will also make a positive economic impact. The regulations could lead to major savings in medical costs for people who get sick from eating contaminated food. They could also cut back on the amount of money spent on the recall of contaminated products.
If manufacturers are able to fix problems at the source, they will prevent future issues. But putting the proposal into action will take time and money. “This is just the beginning,” says Sandy Eskin, director of an organization called The Safe Food Campaign. “There is more stuff right behind it in line for approval.”