FDA releases new FSMA food safety rules

Produce3The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently finalized three new major rules for the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which was signed into law five years ago by Congress and intends to overhaul America’s food safety system.

FSMA will direct the FDA and food producers to prevent problems across the entire food system, rather than waiting to act until illness occurs. The new rules formalize industry accountability and best practices for food importers and the produce community.

The new rules — referred to as the Produce Safety rule, the Foreign Supplier Verification Programs rule, and the Accredited Third-Party Certification rule – are key elements and are described in full in a recent article.

For example, the Produce Safety rule establishes science-based standards for growing, harvesting, packing, and holding produce that are designed to work effectively for food safety across the wide diversity of produce farms. The standards in the final rule include requirements for water quality, employee health and hygiene, wild and domesticated animals, biological soil amendments of animal origin (such as compost and manure), and equipment, tools, and buildings. When followed, the article states, these standards are designed to help minimize the risk of serious illness or death from consumption of contaminated produce.

The Foreign Supplier Verification Programs rule requires food importers to verify that foreign suppliers are producing food in a manner that meets U.S. safety standards and that they are achieving the same level of food safety as domestic farms and food facilities. In 2013, USDA estimated that imported food accounted for about 19% of the U.S. food supply, including about 52% of the fresh fruits and 22% of the fresh vegetables consumed by Americans. The final rule ensures that importers conduct verification activities (such as audits of a supplier’s facility, sampling and testing of food, or a review of the supplier’s relevant food safety records) based on risks linked to the imported food and the performance of the foreign supplier.

The FDA has also finalized a rule on Accredited Third-Party Certification, which is part of FSMA’s new food import safety system. This article states that this rule establishes a program for the accreditation of third-party certification bodies (auditors) to conduct food safety audits and to certify that foreign food facilities and food produced by such facilities meet applicable FDA food safety requirements. To prevent potentially harmful food from reaching U.S. consumers, the FDA can require in specific circumstances that a food offered for import be accompanied by a certification from an accredited third-party certification body.

The finalization of these rules means the FDA has finalized five of the seven major guidelines that implement the core of FSMA and based upon a food company’s size, will have between one to three years to become compliant. Michael Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, described the Act as “a giant step forward.” However, he stressed the importance of additional funding for the FDA to enforce the new regulations, something that Congress will need to approve.

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