Foodborne illnesses are estimated to affect 48 million Americans (or 1 in 6) every year, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In an effort to address this issue more effectively, the FDA has released enforceable food safety standards, which focus on preventing contamination in domestic and foreign foods. The food safety standards are key elements of a reform law passed in 2011 called the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). FSMA will lead to regulations in seven areas and the FDA has announced three of them in a recent press release. Here’s a rundown of the three new FDA rules:
- Produce Safety. This rule sets standards that, when followed, are designed to reduce the risk of illness due to the consumption of contaminated produce. It safeguards the growing, harvesting, and packing of produce by regulating: water quality; employee health and hygiene; contact with wild and domesticated animals; use of compost and manure; and sanitation of equipment, tools, and buildings.
- Foreign Supplier Verification Programs. This rule aims to ensure that the estimated 19% of the US food supply that comes from foreign sources is produced according to US safety standards. Importers will be responsible for verifying that their foreign suppliers are producing food that is safe by auditing a supplier's facilities; sampling and testing a supplier's food; or reviewing a supplier’s food safety records.
- Accredited Third-Party Certification. This rule is part of the imported food safety system. It establishes a program to accredit third-party auditors to perform food safety audits on foreign food suppliers, and to certify that they meet the FDA’s food safety requirements.
There are some foods to which these rules will not apply. For example, certain foods, such as coffee, potatoes, sweet corn, and winter squash, will be exempt because they are typically cooked or processed before being eaten and are therefore less likely to contain pathogens. Small farms with low annual sales and limited distribution areas will have more time (three to four years) to implement the new rules. All other farms will have two years to comply with the regulations.