By Doug Farquhar
Americans enjoy the safest food in the world. Keeping it that way, however, presents a daunting challenge.
New processing techniques, ever-changing technology, growth in imported foods, and more fruits and vegetables coming fresh from the farm means not only more variety and more nutritious foods, but also more opportunities for food-borne illness.
The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) seeks to address these challenges by shifting the food safety paradigm from one of reacting to a food-borne outbreak to preventing the outbreak from occurring.
The law directs the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to work with states to implement food safety practices on farmers who grow fruits, vegetables and other produce.
FSMA, passed by Congress in 2011 to update and modernize the nation’s food safety system, will subject produce farmers to government inspections and oversight.
FDA has been working on the regulations to implement the law for the past five years, and the rules are finally being promulgated. The rules place requirements on produce farmers regarding the water used for produce, on the soils (and manure) used to grow the produce, even on the workers who harvest the produce. All these efforts are designed to limit the potential for food-borne outbreaks from domestic food producers.
But these new FDA regulations also place mandates on imported foods, requiring those products to meet the same food safety standards that domestic producers must meet. They provide for third-party auditing and accreditation of food safety inspectors, to ensure foreign food suppliers are shipping produce in compliance with U.S. standards. They revise requirements for the transportation of foods, to ensure foods remain sanitary during shipping in the U.S.
Most important, these rules acknowledge that states must be partners in implementing this law if it is to succeed. FDA has funding and resources to build the capacity of the state food safety programs to meet the requirements of FSMA. These resources include funding for training of staff, for enhanced food safety inspections, for expanding state labs and food safety programs to handle FSMA.
NCSL has been working with FDA to inform the state legislature on food safety and FSMA. State legislatures introduce over 500 bills on food safety annually, and NCSL tracks them in its Environmental Health Legislative Database. More information on FSMA and state food safety efforts can be found on the NCSL Food Safety web page.
Doug Farquhar is program director of NCSL's Environmental Health program.