FDA Proposes Changes to Reduce Food Contamination

This past Friday, the US Food and Drug Administration proposed a few important updates to their Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which was passed two years ago. The FDA encourages the American public to review and comment on the proposed rules in the next several weeks.

The FDA hopes the changes will improve upon the FSMA and help stop foodborne illnesses and outbreaks. Every year, 1 in 6 Americans become ill from a foodborne pathogen. Nearly 13,000 experience illnesses strong enough to land them in the hospital, and 3,000 die. With stronger efforts made to prevent food-borne illness, the FDA hopes to see a drastic reduction in these numbers, along with a drop in the number of salmonella or E. coli scares in food products like eggs, spinach or peanut butter.

One of the tenets of this proposal involves introducing new standards for farms to reduce risk of contamination. Some of them include ensuring the use of cleaner irrigation water and better sanitary practices among farmers. For example, farms can add lavatories to ensure workers don’t urinate in fields, or develop better ways of cleaning farming or processing equipment.

They also propose changes in how farmers fertilize soil. Some fertilizers, if used improperly, can contaminate the soil and allow bacteria and viruses to get into our food supply. They also suggest contamination may arise from the presence of wild or domesticated animals. These regulations will affect most farms in some form, but it will most heavily impact farms that grow produce that will most likely be served or processed raw (like lettuce or tomatoes). Farms that grow produce that is rarely processed raw (like potatoes) or that will be canned (like green beans) will be affected less or will be excluded. Details of these proposals are on the FDA website.

Because of the financial cost of these changes to farms, the FDA plans to give farms at least 26 months to comply with the regulatory changes, which will vary from farm to farm. The proposals can cost the food industry $459 million per year.

Additional rules will encourage contamination control in food processing facilities to ensure food safety. This includes the processing of imported food. The FDA estimates that 15% of our food is imported and also at risk of contamination. They plan to add additional rules to ensure that importers verify that these foods are safe for consumption.

So far, the changes don’t address the arsenic levels in the rice supply or apple juice supply. These procedures will focus on reducing bacterial, viral and parasitic contamination.