The Food and Drug Administration is proposing new food safety rules that, had they been put into effect in a timely fashion years ago, would have prevented thousands of deaths and kept countless people from being sickened.
Each year, often-deadly outbreaks of foodborne illness are caused by unsafe handling of products like peanuts, cheese, fruits and vegetables. Although many producers follow safe handling procedures, some do not
Listeria in cantaloupes caused 33 deaths in 2011, and FDA inspectors found pools of dirty water and old, dirty processing equipment at the farm where they were grown.
Last year, 42 cases of salmonella were caused by contaminated peanut butter. Inspectors discovered a production plant where birds flew over uncovered trailers of peanuts and employees did not wash their hands.
The new regulations would force producers to address those things. The FDA would be authorized to perform more surprise inspections and shut down food facilities, and stricter standards would be imposed on imported food. The FDA said it also will propose rules designed to make importers verify that imported food is safe and perform improved food safety audits overseas.
Food safety advocates say the rules would turn the FDA from an agency that responds after the fact to outbreaks of illness to one that actually prevents food contamination.
We shouldn’t look for immediate improvements. The rules won’t take effect until after a 120-day comment period, and farms may be given more than two years to come into compliance.
The rules proposed Friday actually were authorized by Congress in 2011, but were delayed by the Obama administration until after the election. Farmers and producers opposed the rules, and food safety advocates had to sue to win their release.
It may not occur to us to think that politics can affect even our food safety, but apparently it does.