The Food and Drug Administration laid out two proposed rules Friday designed to boost food safety and curb illnesses that kill thousands of Americans a year.
The first would require food producers to have formal plans in place to avoid and deal with contaminated consumables sold in the U.S., whether originating domestically or abroad.
All companies would have to keep records of their efforts, which would be open to government audits.
The latter rule would demand “science- and risk-based standards” at fruit and vegetable farms and packing facilities.
The suggested regulations were a long time coming – one of them 12 months behind the date mandated by Congress, according to food safety advocates. The agency said the lag was due to “extensive outreach” to consumers and industry members necessary for effective rules.
The policies stem from the Food Safety Modernization Act, which President Obama signed into law two years ago and is widely recognized as the most sweeping reform of its kind in more than seven decades.
“The new law should transform the FDA from an agency that tracks down outbreaks after the fact, to an agency focused on preventing food contamination in the first place,” said Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, in a statement.
Recalls and outbreaks were rampant in recent years.
The FDA temporarily shut down the New Mexico production facility of Sunland Inc. after the company’s peanut butter sparked a spate of salmonella illnesses and a mass recall at Trader Joe’s and other retailers this fall.
Last year, a multi-state Listeria outbreak linked to tainted cantaloupes killed dozens of people. Each year, one in six Americans falls ill due to contaminated food, which leads to 140,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 fatalities, according to the FDA.
The new FDA proposals will be published in the Federal Register and subjected to a 120-day public comment period. Once the final rules are approved, most food manufacturers will be expected to start complying after a year, while large farms will be given 26 months to fall into line.
Smaller businesses and farms will be given additional time, according to the FDA.
The FDA said it is also working on proposed safety regulations targeting imported food – which constitutes 15% of what’s eaten in the U.S. The agency also plans to compile standards for facilities making animal feed, which has been occasionally linked to diseases transferred from livestock to humans.
“We know one-size-fits-all rules won’t work,” said Michael R. Taylor, the agency’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, in a statement. “We’ve worked to develop proposed regulations that can be both effective and practical across today’s diverse food system.”