The Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA) was signed into law by President Barack Obama in January 2011. The purpose of the legislation was to reduce food safety risks and foodborne illness. Since that time, there has been a consistent march of new regulations implementing that legislation from the Food and Drug Administration, covering various aspects of the food and temperature-controlled supply chains.
The impetus for passage of FSMA was an outbreak of salmonella in peanut butter in 2008 and 2009, which left nine people dead and over 700 sick. That incident led to criminal prosecutions and convictions of peanut suppliers.
An estimated 48 million people get sick each year from foodborne diseases, according to recent data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die each year. Most recently, a multistate outbreak of salmonella in imported cucumbers killed four in the U.S. and hospitalized 157.
It is therefore probably not coincidental that the latest regulations to emerge from the FDA involve the growing, handling, and importing of produce. The FDA has also been studying the adulteration of imported spices, which may result in new rules.
The produce regulations—referred to as the Produce Safety rule, the Foreign Supplier Verification Programs rule, and the Accredited Third-Party Certification rule—released last November, establish safety standards for produce farms and make importers accountable for verifying that imported food meets U.S. safety standards. The rule also established a program for the accreditation of third-party auditors to conduct food safety inspections of foreign food facilities.
“The recent salmonella outbreak is exactly the kind of incident these rules can help prevent,” said Michael Taylor, FDA deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine. “The FDA is working with partners across the government and industry to prevent foodborne outbreaks.”
The Produce Safety rule establishes science-based standards for growing, harvesting, packing, and holding produce. The rule includes requirements for water quality, employee health and hygiene, and standards for compost and manure.