After a decade of highly publicized food product recalls, the Food Safety Modernization Act (S.510) was passed earlier this month by the U.S. Senate. The first major food safety legislation in more than 70 years, it provides the Food and Drug Administration with the authority to issue mandatory recalls and increases standards on foods grown or produced out of the country.
The bill has been passed on the House of Representatives. Since the legislation has drawn support of both parties, it will most likely appear on the statute book by early 2011.
The bill also calls for increasing the number of food-processing plant inspections and requiring all food producers to develop written food safety plans. In addition, it mandates the establishment of a nationwide food tracing system through the FDA that would streamline the process of finding the source of contamination, should an outbreak occur, and develop additional recordkeeping requirements for foods determined to be “high risk.”
The FDA, in coordination with the food industry, would be required to establish pilot projects to test and evaluate new methods for rapidly and effectively tracking and tracing food products to prevent and mitigate foodborne illness outbreaks.
Why the focus on traceability? Current track and trace capabilities are generally poor, and information gathering and sharing relies heavily on cross-referencing, which could greatly slow down a trace-back effort. Other industry-wide issues—such as multiple standards and product identifiers, even for the same lot as it moves from a shipping point to multiple receivers—would become significant barriers to restricting the scope of an FDA outbreak investigation.
Recent lessons have shown that the problems of traceability in one sector can create economic vulnerabilities for the entire supply chain and ripple effects in all secondary industries. Look at what happened with this year’s egg recall—almost a half a billion eggs were recalled, impacting at least 13 brands. And the peanut recall of 2009 affected more than 2,100 products in 17 categories.
While there is a need for increased food safety, many in the industry worry about the cost of compliance. As we reported last year, concerns over the bill include additional fees, operational costs and harsh monetary penalties; increased recordkeeping; and a one-size-fits-all approach to liability that could disproportionately impact some companies along the supply chain, especially companies whose responsibility is limited to storing and moving the finished goods.
Having as many safety checks and balances as possible within the food supply chain will help, but it is up to the food industry to make it work. What steps are you taking? Please share your thoughts with us as we continue to cover this important issue next year.
And speaking of next year, we’d like to thank all of readers and advertisers for all of their continued support over the year. We wish you all a very happy, safe and prosperous 2011.