Monday February 4, 2013

The New Haven (Conn.) Register, Jan. 30, 2013

Passing the Food Safety Modernization Act may have been the easy part. Billed as the first major overhaul since the 1930s of how the government ensures the safety of the nation’s food, it will shift regulators’ response from reacting to outbreaks of food-borne illness to preventing them.

Some aspects of the law went into effect immediately, including giving the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authority to order mandatory recalls of food if growers or distributors fail to act voluntarily.

But, the regulations needed to implement the law’s major safety provisions are only now beginning to be proposed by the FDA, two years after the law was signed by President Barack Obama on Jan. 4, 2011.

There is no doubt the legislation is needed. Annually, contaminated food sends an estimated 128,000 people to the hospital and kills 3,000.

The two rules proposed by the FDA require processed food makers and farmers to develop plans to prevent the contamination of foods.

For example, there is no standard that requires roasting peanuts used for peanut butter to a temperature that kills salmonella. And, there is no requirement for farmers to provide portable toilets to prevent workers from urinating in the fields.

The rules require that farmers of fruits and vegetables use water that meets specific standards and that food processors prevent bacteria from fresh food from contacting and contaminating cooked food.

The FDA has even more work to do in implementing the food safety law. It has yet to propose regulations on the safety of imported food, which accounts for 14 percent of the food sold in the United States.

And, once the regulations are fully in place, their enforcement will depend on Congress appropriating sufficient money. Even with a $500 registration fee for food producers, the cost of putting the new law fully into effect is estimated to be $2.2 billion over five years.