One in six Americans suffer from a foodborne illness every year. Of those, nearly 130,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die from their illness, according to the FDA.

Two years ago, President Obama signed into law the most sweeping food safety reform since 1938. The landmark FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was passed following a series of particularly tenacious lethal outbreaks of foodborne illnesses linked to FDA-regulated processed foods and fresh produce.  

Stemming from that are two proposed rules released by the FDA today which aim to give the agency the power to actually prevent deadly outbreaks of foodborne illness, rather than just being able to react after the fact.

If adopted, the FDA would be able to force companies to recall products as well as have the authority to examine internal records at farms and food-production plants, powers that the FDA doesn’t currently possess. In addition, the rules would require U.S. foodmakers to develop preventive control plans aimed at keeping Salmonella, E. coli, and other deadly pathogens out of the food supply. The written food safety plans would require hazard analysis, risk based preventive controls, monitoring procedures, corrective actions, verification, and recordkeeping. 

They also call for specific regulations for overseeing produce, since outbreaks from spinach, lettuce, tomatoes, melons, and other fruits and vegetables have become common.  The FDA notes that 131 outbreaks associated with contaminated produce occurred between 1996 and 2010, causing more than 14,000 illnesses and 34 deaths.

The new rules cover the 80 percent of the food supply regulated by the FDA, including produce, dairy and seafood – beef, poultry and some egg products are overseen by the Department of Agriculture.

Caroline Smith DeWaal from the nonprofit health advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest said in a statement, that although we still need rules aimed at ensuring the safety of imported food, “these proposed regulations are a sign of progress that should be welcomed by consumers and the food industry alike.”

The proposed rules are available for public comment for the next 120 days. The FDA encourages Americans to review and comment.

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