Why Are We Still Waiting for Food Safety Rules?

Recently we have all seen or heard about the food scares that have transpired from eating egg salad, spinach and cantaloupe. In fact, the cantaloupe foodborne illness outbreak was one of the worst the U.S. has seen in over 25 years. This Listeria outbreak linked to Colorado grown cantaloupes led to over 29 deaths, with over 139 people infected across 28 states.

Nasima Hossain

Our food safety systems were drastically in need of modernization as the two acts we are celebrating this week, the Pure Food and Drugs Act and the Federal Meat Inspection Act, are over 100 years old. In January 2011 the President signed the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act. This was a landmark piece of legislation that U.S. PIRG, consumer groups, public health groups and even the food industry supported. It is a timely modernization of outdated food and safety protections and rules. See our ad in the New York Times about the delay of these rules.

The heart of the new law is to make the goal of our food safety system prevent problems before they make people sick. The law requires FDA to issue the following key rules:

  • Produce Safety Standards – establish standards for irrigation water, manure, worker-hygiene, and wildlife that may be sources of contamination of fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Rules for the “Foreign Supplier Verification Program – part of a comprehensive import safety system, which makes importers responsible for the safety of the foods they import.
  • Prevention-based requirements for food companies – they will be required to develop food-safety plans that will identify possible sources of contamination and specify actions to address them.

All these rules should have been implemented by January 2012. Consumer groups and food industry representatives including the Produce Marketing Association, and a large number of major food and retail companies ranging from Kraft Foods to Walmart, have written to the Administration urging that the proposed rules be released.

Every year there are an estimated 48 million foodborne illnesses, 127,000 hospitalizations, and 3,000 deaths from food contamination each year. They cost us more than $70 billion dollars a year in health-related costs and Foodborne illness outbreaks peak during the summer. Right there is a serious E. Coli outbreak where a New Orleans infant is dead and 13 others in six states have been sickened and the E. Coli outbreak may be linked to foodborne illness.

As we acknowledge the 106th birthday of the Pure Food and Drugs Act and Federal Meat Inspection Act and continue to welcome the Food Safety and Modernization Act we ask that OMB be proactive in preventing unnecessary foodborne illness during the summer and release these rules now!


Nasima Hossain