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FDA enacts new laws to prevent foodborne illness outbreaks

The Food and Drug Administration released new federal food safety rules Sept. 10 after several deadly bacteria outbreaks. PHOTO COURTESY PIXABAY
The Food and Drug Administration released new federal food safety rules Sept. 10 after several deadly bacteria outbreaks. PHOTO COURTESY PIXABAY

Deadly bacteria like Listeria, E. coli and Salmonella can, and occasionally do, lurk on the food consumed by Americans every day. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 48 million Americans get ill and 3,000 die each year from food-related diseases caused by these bacteria.

To combat those critters, the Food and Drug Administration finalized a set of laws on Sept. 10 called the Food Safety Modernization Act. The laws, which initially passed through Congress on Dec. 21, 2010, outline stringent guidelines for food manufacturers to follow in hopes of preventing future outbreaks of foodborne illnesses.

In recent years, there have been several outbreaks caused by common foods such as cantaloupe, caramel apples, peanuts and ice cream. Just last week, authorities claimed that a certain brand of cucumbers imported from Mexico had caused a Salmonella outbreak that sickened nearly 350 people.

The presence of deadly bacteria in these foods is generally caused by violations of health and sanitation practices. There are a variety of opportunities for food to be contaminated, including the use of old or dirty equipment, inadequate temperatures in storage faculties and poor employee hygiene, among others.

“The challenge with foodborne illness is that there are so many opportunities for microbes to enter our food systems, starting with production and preparation,” said Lauren Ferraro, a nutritionist at Boston University’s Sargent College of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences. “For example, animals that are raised for food have millions of microbes in their guts. If a small amount of the intestinal juices contaminates the carcass, this can cause a foodborne illness in the person who consumes it.”

The FSMA, which is composed of seven foundational rules, is intended to reduce the likelihood of food being contaminated while it is processed, transported and stored. In doing so, the FDA wants to shift its focus from responding to outbreaks to preventing them from occurring in the first place.

“The food safety problems we face have one thing in common — they are largely preventable,” said Michael Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods, in a statement to the Associated Press.

Under the new laws, food producers will need to make plans that outline how they will keep their facilities clean and keep logs of all activities that occur in their production centers. The FDA will have the right to review these plans and logs at any time. It will also have the power to close any plants with inadequate safety plans.

“Moving forward, there will be more standardized methods for water, worker hygiene or cleanliness, composting and sanitation of buildings, equipment and tools,” Ferraro said.

Starting next year, the FDA will have to inspect high-risk plants once very three years. Right now, the FDA only inspects facilities approximately once every 10 years.

Scott Rosario, marketing director of BU Dining Services, said the FDA regulations are continually reviewed and provide high-quality training to food service workers.

“All of our employees are trained in proper food handling,” he said. “Hourly employees go through the ServSafe hourly employee certification and all managers are certified through the ServSafe manager training. Even our student staff goes through a mandatory food safety class. Every time there is a break in service, there is continued training … Intersession, spring break and summer are the busiest times [for] staff training.”

In addition to cleaning up people food-making facilities, FSMA includes rules that pertain to preventing the spread of bacterial disease in pet food by regulating food that is imported from other countries and ensuring the sanitation of food transportation.

FSMA is one of the most radical changes in the FDA’s food safety laws in more than 70 years. The laws will start being enforced this month.

The changes will not likely be any trouble for food manufacturers. Recalls caused by outbreaks are notoriously expensive and damaging to both affected companies and their customers. In addition to helping these companies and lessening the potential for the spread of deadly diseases, FSMA will most likely give consumers peace of mind.

“Consumers themselves will know now that their food is safer,” Ferraro said. “The more standards are put into place for production, preparation and storage of foods, the more confident a consumer can be that their food is safe.”

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