Food borne illnesses are continuously growing to be a problem for public health, but it will take the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) another two years to completely update the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). On February 20, the FDA and the Center for Food Safety (CFS) came to a settlement in the federal district court in Oakland, CA regarding the deadlines of the FSMA. The CFS had previously set a deadline for 2012; however, a lawsuit was brought against the FDA over the missed deadline.
George Kimbrell, lead attorney for the CFS, is pleased that the FSMA is now finally on its way. He says, “The FSMA is very important for the health of American citizens. This is the first major update to our food safety laws since 1938 and it must now be implemented in a timely manner. It means better food safety for all Americans.” The food safety update will be designed to prevent illness outbreaks instead of responding to them, which is the current system in the U.S., but the fact that it will take the FDA another two years leaves some industry experts worried.
Last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found major holes in the food safety of restaurants in the US. Researchers studied the food handling of 385 restaurants in eight states. Some of their findings were shocking and could possibly cause major illness outbreaks. In 40 percent of the restaurants, workers were observed wiping instead of washing their hands after handling raw ground beef. The utensils that were used to handle raw ground beef were also not washed before touching cooked ground beef in 42 percent of the restaurants. Bad practices for handling ground beef, whether raw or cooked, could cause illness outbreaks such as salmonella and E.coli and since 2006, the US has been affected by E.coli outbreaks at least once every year. Many of them were caused by beef and some experts say the missed deadline of the FSMA by the FDA did not help.
The FDA, however, says they are doing the best they can to implement the FSMA. “The FDA is working as quickly as possible to meet the deadlines for the new rules, but we also have to ensure that we get these rules right. We are fully committed to implementing the FSMA and to build a framework that will prevent food borne illnesses,” a spokesperson said. The new deadline for the FSMA is made up of four deadlines, with a first update due in August 2015 for preventive controls of human and animal food. New rules for produce safety will follow in October 2015. In 2016, new rules for sanitary transport are due in March and the final rule, intentional adulteration, in May.
Although the CFS has previously shown their disappointment in the FDA, Kimbrell says the FDA is regaining trust, even though the complete food safety update will take another two years. He says, “The agreement on the new deadlines is the best possible result. Not only has the FDA committed to implement the FSMA, but the deadline also provides a relatively timely conclusion.”
By Diana Herst