After a near certain death last week, the long-debated food safety bill, intended to reduce outbreaks of food-borne illness, was finally passed by the Senate in a surprise session last Sunday.
Last Tuesday, the bill proceeded to the House and was also approved. President Obama is expected to sign the bill, which will represent the first overhaul in food safety standards since 1938.
The new law will increase the power of the FDA and bolster regulation of food production in a variety of ways. Eric Olson, director of food and consumer product safety at the Pew Health Group, said that
Really this is a major victory for every American who will sit down at the dinner table and have more confidence that their food is going to be safe.
Here are a few of the many changes intended to prevent illness and make food safer.
- The FDA will be able to order food recalls. It may surprise you to hear this, but before the new bill’s passage, the FDA could only request a recall—even when there was evidence that tainted food had made people sick.
- Increased inspection of food manufacturers, both in the US and abroad. The aim is for the FDA to carry out inspections ever 3-5 years, compared to the once-a-decade checks happening now.
- New responsibility for manufacturers, who must identify risks in processing and make plans to reduce these risks. These plans must be shared with the FDA, as well as results of tests.
- Exemptions: small farmers and producers are given a pass on many of the new regulations (due to an addition known as the Tester Amendment). In addition, this bill does not affect most meat and poultry products, which are regulated by the Agriculture Department rather than the FDA.
- The number of foreign inspectors must double over each of the next five years.
- Nationwide standards. The FDA will be able to set standards across the country aimed at reducing contamination for growing and harvesting produce.
The changes won’t go into effect for 18 months, which gives the agency time to write new rules to carry out the law.
Funding was not written into the new bill, so there is a possibility that future cuts by a Republican-led Senate may hinder the FDA from making the required changes. Says Olson, “to fulfill the promise of this legislation you need to make sure the FDA has the resources it needs.”