On January 4, 2011, President Obama signed into law the Food Safety Modernization Act, which shifts the focus of the FDA from responding to contaminated food outbreaks to preventing food-borne illness. The law will require everyone in the food chain to be responsible for safety. Key provisions follow:
- Food facilities must have a written plan that sets forth the potential problems that could affect the safety of their products. The plan must outline the steps that the facility would take to prevent or significantly minimize the likelihood of those problems occurring.
- FDA must establish scientifically-based standards for the safe production and harvesting of fruits and vegetables. Those standards must account for man-made and naturally-occurring risks, including those caused by soil, animals, and water.
- FDA must increase the frequency of inspections. As an initial matter, FDA must inspect high-risk domestic food facilities within the next five years. These same facilities must be inspected no less than every three years after that. During the next year, FDA must also inspect at least 600 foreign food facilities and double the number of those inspections every year for the next five years. If an importer refuses U.S. inspection, FDA now has the authority to refuse entry into the United States.
- For the first time, the law authorizes FDA to mandate the recall of unsafe food if the company fails to do it voluntarily. In addition, the law allows FDA to suspend the registration of a food facility associated with unsafe food, thereby preventing it from distributing food.
- The recently enacted food safety legislation also requires that high-risk imported foods be accompanied by a third-party certification as a condition of admission into the United States, and directs FDA to improve its ability to track both domestic and foreign foods.
Apparently, there are ongoing concerns with regard to funding the implementation of these provisions. By many accounts, however, industry, public health, and consumer groups have largely supported this historic law.
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