F.D.A. finalizes food safety rules for produce, imported food

by Monica Watrous
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Boxes of fruits and vegetables
The produce safety rule establishes standards for growing, harvesting, packing and holding produce.

WASHINGTON — The Food and Drug Administration has finalized rules under the 2011 bipartisan Food Safety Modernization Act (F.S.M.A.) that establish safety standards for produce farms and imported food. Additionally, the F.D.A. issued a rule establishing an accreditation program for third-party certification bodies to conduct food safety audits of foreign food facilities.

Michael R. Taylor, F.D.A. deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine
Michael R. Taylor, F.D.A. deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine

“The recent multistate outbreak of Salmonella in imported cucumbers that has killed four Americans, hospitalized 157 and sickened hundreds more, is exactly the kind of outbreak these rules can help prevent,” said Michael R. Taylor, F.D.A. deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine. “The F.D.A. is working with partners across the government and industry to prevent foodborne outbreaks. The rules will help better protect consumers from foodborne illness and strengthen their confidence that modern preventive practices are in place, no matter where in the world the food is produced.”

The produce safety rule establishes standards for growing, harvesting, packing and holding produce. Designed to reduce the risk of serious illness or death from consumption of tainted produce, the standards include requirements for water quality, employee health and hygiene, wild and domesticated animals, biological soil amendments of animal origin, and equipment, tools and buildings. The rule was shaped by public comment and input from farm visits and meetings to minimize harmful contamination while allowing flexibility for farmers and producers.

Under the foreign supplier verification programs rule, importers will be accountable for verifying that food meets U.S. safety standards based on risks linked to the imported food and performance of the supplier.

As part of the accredited third-party certification rule, which is part of F.S.M.A.’s new food import safety system, the F.D.A. may require in specific circumstances that an imported food be accompanied by a certification from an accredited third-party auditor.

“The ultimate success of F.S.M.A. depends on full funding of the president’s F.Y. 2016 budget request,” Mr. Taylor said. “This will help us train F.D.A. and state food safety staff on the new system, fund our state partners to work with farmers on produce safety, provide technical assistance to small farms and food businesses, and successfully implement the new import system that U.S. consumers deserve and Congress envisioned.”

The F.D.A. has finalized five of the seven major rules implementing the core of F.S.M.A. In September, the agency finalized the preventative controls rules, which mandate modern food manufacturing processes for human and animal foods.

An estimated 48 million people, or one in six Americans, fall ill from foodborne diseases each year, resulting in 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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