Interviews and News has found that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed the largest changes to food safety rules in many years, which is happy news for food safety advocates. The new rules would require farmers, as well as food companies, to be less lax in the wake of the deadly outbreaks involving cantaloupes, peanuts and greens.
Many consumers feel that the regulations are long overdue because of the estimated 3,000 deaths a year from food-related illnesses. Since the summer of 2012 there have been outbreaks of food contamination in cheese, peanut butter, and fruit which have been linked to over 400 reported illnesses and as many as seven deaths. However, the actual numbers are probably much higher.
The new rules would require many commonsense precautions against contamination such as workers’ hand washing, clean irrigation water, and keeping animals out of fields with food. Also, manufacturers will need to submit their food safety plans to ensure that their operations are clean. Officials believe that these requirements could have saved many lives as well as prevented people from falling ill over the last few years.
For instance, during the listeria outbreak of cantaloupe two years ago, inspectors found dirty water on the floor as well as dirty equipment at the farm where the fruit was grown. Even more frightening, in a recent peanut butter outbreak were safety issues found that included birds flying over the peanuts and employees being lax about hand washing. That outbreak was linked to 42 illnesses, while the cantaloupes with listeria claimed 33 lives.
However, don’t start celebrating yet. The rules are only applicable to fresh fruits and vegetables that pose the greatest health risk, like berries, melons, greens and other foods that are usually eaten raw. For instance, a farm that produces vegetables that will be canned and cooked before being eaten won’t be regulated. Also, the new proposed regulations won’t take effect until after a 4-month period and the FDA is giving farms time beyond that to come into compliance.