FDA completes FSMA with finalization of last rule

Whole Turkey SandwichFor the first time, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will soon require food companies to have a written food defense plan to protect their products from deliberate contamination intended to cause widespread harm to the public.

This announcement came last week, and is the last of seven major rules of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which aims to improve the safety of the country’s food supply in the wake of several high-profile foodborne outbreaks the past decade. The rule was first proposed in December 2013.

The FDA said in a recent article that while “such acts are unlikely to occur,” the new rule puts in place another layer to protect the food supply. Food manufacturers are required to comply with the new regulation within three to five years, depending on the size of the business.

“[The] final rule on intentional adulteration will further strengthen the safety of an increasingly global and complex food supply,” Stephen Ostroff, FDA’s incoming deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine said in an article. “The rule will work in concert with other components of FSMA by preventing food safety problems before they occur.”

With thousands of Americans falling ill and public confidence shaken following a series of high-profile foodborne illnesses involving consumer staples including lettuce, peppers, peanuts and eggs, Congress and the White House moved to upgrade food safety. FSMA was signed into law by President Barack Obama in January 2011 and marked the biggest change of U.S. food safety laws since 1938, when Congress gave the FDA authority to oversee the safety of food, drugs and cosmetics.

Among the changes, it will also increase the frequency of plant inspections by the FDA and allowed it to order mandatory recalls. The law places more responsibility on the food industry by requiring better record-keeping, putting in place plans to deal with an outbreak and prevent one from occurring, and ensuring workers are receiving appropriate training.

Implementation of the rules have been slow, however, in part because of the complexity of the rules, delays in the review process that prompted a consumer group to sue, and time given to companies to put in place the new measures, the article explains.

Jaydee Hanson, senior policy analyst for the Center for Food Safety, said the pieces are in place for the FDA to increase oversight of the food supply and reduce potential risks for consumers, but he warned that the agency is not getting enough resources to properly implement and enforce the law.

Pamela Bailey, president of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, welcomed the final piece of the rule. She said the organization “will maintain a leadership role on behalf of industry to educate food and beverage manufacturers on what it will take to comply with the law, both in the U.S. and the entire global supply chain.”

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