U.S. Senate prepares to modernize food safety legislation

Now that the U.S. Senate has reconvened after a month-long recess during which large-scale salmonella-related egg recalls made headlines across the country, food safety reform is back on the top of the agenda.

The Senate is currently reviewing S. 510, a food safety bill that would give the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) significant powers of oversight and regulation on the growing and production of food. 

And it might be about time for this kind of reform. Not only have 85 food recalls occurred in the U.S.—not to mention this summer’s massive egg recall as well as other salmonella- and listeria-based recalls—since the House of Representatives passed a similar bill about a year ago, S. 510 is the first large piece of legislation to address food safety in more than 70 years.

In fact, currently the FDA doesn’t even really have the power to hold food growers and producers accountable when they do slip up. As Chris Waldrop, director of the Consumer Federation of America’s Food Policy Institute, noted in a press release: “Most Americans probably assume that FDA inspects farms and food processing plants are inspected regularly and that when problems arise, FDA can quickly order tainted eggs or spinach off the market. In fact, neither of those assumptions is true. The Senate food safety bill would give the FDA the authority it needs to do its job.”

Some of the features of the proposed legislation include:

  • Requiring producers to conduct hazard analyses and ensure preventive controls are in place to address hazards.
  • A demand for well-documented record-keeping procedures; recall procedures; distribution history records; supply chain compliance; corrective and preventive actions; and many other control documents 
  • Giving the FDA the new spending powers, the authority to immediately close plants that pose a health risk, and the ability to initiate quick recalls of suspected foods.

While many, including President Barack Obama and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have lobbied to have the bill passed sooner rather than later, it has not been without its opponents.

Food safety advocate Bill Marler says the bill doesn’t go far enough and features too many exemptions, including smaller farms and restaurants where food is prepared and served directly to customers.

Others argue the bill puts small family farms at a disadvantage since they have to comply with the same rigorous standards that affect larger industrial farms (who, small producers are quick to note, are responsible for almost all recent food recalls).

However, all signs at this juncture indicate the bill will likely be passed and made into law in short order, something that should prompt food producers of any size to consider implementing comprehensive food safety management systems. By being proactive and addressing HACCP requirements (which are embedded into the bill in its current state), businesses will be better prepared to adjust to this long-overdue strengthening of food safety standards.

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