FDA to food industry: Food safety plans are required

People do their shopping in a supermarket. Are you a mindful consumer?

Farmers, grocery stores and food processors have waited two years plus for the FDA to come out with new rules for food safety. They’re out. And the new world is about preventing outbreaks, rather than chasing violators after the fact.

Food safety today goes like this:

“People get sick, food gets recalled -- oops, we got a problem,” says Sandra Eskin at the Pew Health Group.

The rules proposed today will force food producers to have a safety plan beforehand, rules FDA inspectors will have to approve.

For instance: “I’m XYZ peanut butter corporation,” Eskin says. “I’m gonna walk around my facility, my operations. Are we roasting the nuts to an adequate temperature. Am I making sure I’m keeping them separate, roasted nuts from the raw nuts?”

These new rules could have prevented a peanut-butter crisis last fall, when salmonella turned up in product at Trader Joe’s.

The changes also apply to farmers -- all but the smallest ones. A cantaloupe contamination killed 33 people two years ago.

The food industry backed the bill that created today’s rules. But its whole way of doing business is about to change.

“Everything you do has to be documented,” says attorney Will Woodlee, of Kleinfeld Kaplan and Becker. “So that when FDA comes to inspect, they can see what you’ve done and how you’ve got there. And if you haven’t documented it, it didn’t happen in FDA’s eyes.”

It’ll be two years plus before the new prevention system starts. By then, Celia Wexler at the Union of Concerned Scientists will be at ease, kind of.

“I would have a bit more confidence as I went through the food and produce section,” Wexler says. “I might in fact start buying peanut butter again.”

Wexler also worries if the FDA will have enough money to hire enough inspectors.

About the author

Scott Tong is a correspondent for Marketplace’s sustainability desk, with a focus on energy, environment, resources, climate, supply chain and the global economy.

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