In the wake of recent deadly outbreaks, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration released Thursday a new set of rules that require all U.S. food producers to focus more on food safety and take additional measures to prevent food contamination at their processing plants.
The new rules represent a shift of policy in the agency’s way of tackling outbreaks. The FDA is now set to prevent outbreaks from occurring rather than wait and take the necessary steps after their onset.
The recent rules are an extension of a set of regulations adopted by Congress in 2010 in an effort to make the U.S.’ food safety system more secure. The FDA announced that more rules on food packaging, growing, and imports would be finalized in the next months.
According to a report issued by the CDC, nearly 50 million Americans report they ate contaminated food every year. Of those people, 128,000 need hospitalization while about 3,000 die of complications.
Since 2010, food-related outbreaks were reported every year. The outbreaks that spread across many states and led to several deaths were related to contaminated cookies, liquefied eggs used in pastries, and caramel apples. But the outbreak that prompted the FDA to issue new rules was a salmonella infection caused by contaminated cucumbers from Mexico. The outbreak is yet to be contained and so far it sickened 341 people and killed two.
FDA inspectors reported that the during a recent listeria outbreak caused by contaminated Blue Bell ice cream they found that some processing faculties had critical lapses in sanitation including dirty food processing tools, improper storage rooms, and workers that didn’t wash their hands every time they handled food.
The agency announced that the new rules are designed to make food producers more accountable and prevent contaminated food to reach the shelves. Michael Taylor senior investigator at the FDA explained that most of safety issues recorded at food processing facilities were perfectly preventable.
Taylor added that the new regulations would no longer put a bet on a one-size-fits-all approach. The new rules reportedly are “risk-based, targeted and flexible,” the inspector added.
Taylor also said that the rules were inspired by the food producers that have high standards of food safety to prevent harmful bacteria from reaching their produce. The agency was able to learn from these producers’ extensive experience the best practices to prevent food contamination on a large scale.
The new rules would be enforced late next summer, but the food manufacturers with fewer than 500 workers would have even more time to comply.
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