What Does the New Food Safety Law Mean for You?
By Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D., Commissioner of Food and Drugs
Just before Christmas, the House of Representatives and the Senate passed the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, which President Obama signed into law on January 4, 2011. Here’s a quick look at some of the provisions in the new law:
- Issuing recalls: For the first time, FDA will have the authority to order a recall of food products. Up to now, with the exception of infant formula, the FDA has had to rely on food manufacturers and distributors to recall food voluntarily.
- Conducting inspections: The law calls for more frequent inspections and for those inspections to be based on risk. Foods and facilities that pose a greater risk to food safety will get the most attention
- Importing food: The law provides significant enhancements to FDA's ability to oversee food produced in foreign countries and imported into the United States. Also, FDA has the authority to prevent a food from entering this country if the facility has refused U.S. inspection.
- Preventing problems: Food facilities must have a written plan that spells out the possible problems that could affect the safety of their products. The plan would outline steps that the facility would take to help prevent those problems from occurring.
- Focusing on science and risk: The law establishes science-based standards for the safe production and harvesting of fruits and vegetables. This is an important step forward. These standards will consider both natural and man-made risks to the safety of fresh produce.
- Respecting the role of small businesses and farms: The law also provides some flexibility, such as exemptions from the produce safety standards for small farms that sell directly to consumers at a roadside stand or farmer’s market as well as through a community supported agriculture program (CSA).
Questions About the Law
Given the importance of this legislation, it is not surprising that people have many questions. Some are asking if the roles of USDA and FDA are changing. The answer is simple: the U.S. Department of Agriculture will continue to have primary responsibility for regulating meat, poultry, and egg products.
Another question people have been asking is “when will the changes happen?” There’s no easy answer to that question. Some of the changes from the law will go into effect immediately, such as the new mandatory recall authority. Other changes will require more time. And some of this simply comes down to budgeting.
The funding we get each year, which affects our staffing and our vital and far-ranging operations, will also affect how this legislation is implemented. For example, the inspection schedule in the legislation would increase the burden on FDA’s inspection functions. Without more funding, we will be challenged to implement the law fully without compromising other key functions. We look forward to working with Congress and our partners to ensure that FDA is funded sufficiently to achieve our food safety and food defense goals.
For more information about the new law, check out these resources:
- FDA Consumer Update: Food Bill Aims to Improve Safety
- From the Commissioner: Food Safety Modernization Act: Putting the Focus on Prevention
- Questions and Answers on the Food Safety Modernization Act
How will this affect backyard gardeners? Will the sale of heirloom seeds be impacted?
The New Food Safety Law is a much needed in today, because it can prevent so many deaths and hospitalisations. India is coming up with its own new law on Food Safety, but the enforcement of it is going to be difficult. If the USFDA can help India to be able to develop a better food safety plan, it would be very beneficial to both countries, since US imports a lot from India. There are many private labs in India, who are also willing to lend their hand in this initiative.
This is so far an unfunded mandate. This means that Congress wants ten thousand more inspections but there is no money to hire more inspectors.
I'm very optimistic about the new food safety law. For the last few months, I've tried to list food recalls nationwide on a food allergies website. It's been a very difficult task, because of the number of recalls and because they've been so widespread. Also, while many manufacturers are diligent, my impression has been that some don't bother or really care. The challenge for those individuals with food allergies often is identifying the ingredient that has triggered a reaction, especially if the person has eaten out. I hope that FDA involvement starts promptly. Monitoring imported foods is definitely a challenge, but it's a challenge that I'm confident the US can meet. Aggressive inspecting is crucial and I hope that the budget will recognize this!
We are inspected twice a year now, at a cost of about $2,000. This service used to be free. I don't have a problem with inspections, I actually like them as they keep the staff on their toes and always careful. I do object to paying out more for the inspections, and I do object to inspectors having so many places to inspect that they can't do a real inspection. Is there funding for more inspections? Are there enough inspectors to inspect?
We are hopeful that with passage of the food safety bill in December 2010 that the new Congress will fully fund the FDA to ensure that adequate inspections are conducted. My plan is to directly contact US House Speaker Boehner as well as my Representative to seek their support for this vital government function and suggest that others do the same. My experience as an employee of a major food manufacturer has convinced me that much more needs to be done to provide effective oversight of the food industry.
have been an independent consumer safety advocate since I had my child who is now 24 years old. I’m glad to see after all these years that FDA is taking better action or enforcing more to the safety of our food that I don’t eat personally packaged or canned to be expired after 2 years? For the past 25 years I have called mostly all giant manufactures to at least copy what some European or Middle Eastern do by printing the production and the expiration dates. For me as individual I do prefer to know when the product was made/ packed/ and the exact location where the product was initiated NOT by saying: Packed for -------- in USA, because transporting then packaging might expose some food to poisonous or expire their nutrient affect. WE as consumer about time that WE deserve more respect to be educated about what enters our homes then stomach, and then let us make the decision. Besides I hope FDA work with all local health departments that inspect grocery stores especially such as Oriental or Mediterranean as I see their shelves filthy and not meeting the standard of American living. WHY, I don’t understand this even I do give comments when I shop for different authentic food. Also it is a good system to inspect import food before loading and shipping to save all of us economical which will give EXPORTER the message NOT to mess with our food any more. HOPE that FDA doesn’t wait years to give the warning for some manufactures or just pay their penalties. They should close the UNITS immediately SO others learn that FDA is serious in this Food Safety Modernization Act.
I have never seen so many food recalls as there were in 2010. What has happened to Quality Control? Has that gotten more lax and companies are so rushed to get their products out that the attitude now is, "Just get it out and if no one complains, we're okay?" Something is surely different about the processing of food now than it used to be. Maybe the Quality Control teams need other teams overseeing them.