Following a wave of various outbreaks involving peanuts, spinach, cookie dough and hot peppers, consumers have pushed Washington for stronger food safety regulation. In response, the Obama Administration recently announced two initiatives to streamline food safety information. In addition, Congress continues work on legislation that will give the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) more control over the recall of products.
Reportable Food Registry: The first initiative recently announced by the FDA includes more stringent rules for reporting potential food contamination and the creation of a new electronic Reportable Food Registry (“RFR”), for food facilities to use to report food safety issues. The FDA Amendments Act of 2007 (Public Law 110-085, section 1005), directed the establishment of the RFR for the food industry.
Under the new federal rules, food facilities that manufacture, process, pack or hold food for human or animal consumption are required to report to the FDA, through the RFR, potential contamination in a product that could cause severe health problems or death to humans or animals within 24 hours of becoming aware of such a circumstance. Examples of reasons a food may be reportable include bacterial contamination, allergen mislabeling or elevated levels of certain chemical components. The aim of the registry is to enhance FDA’s ability to act quickly to prevent foodborne illness by removing contaminated products from the market. Under the new rules, companies that do not report potential foodborne outbreaks within 24 hours may face an injunction, fines or other punishment.
The Federal Register notice was issued earlier this month announcing final guidance to assist the food industry in complying with the requirements of the RFR. RFR guidance is located at http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodSafety/FoodSafetyPrograms/RFR/default.htm
Consumer Web Site: The second initiative announced by U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary (“USDA”) Tom Vilsack and Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was the launch of a new food safety web site designed to keep consumers abreast of all food safety and food recall news. Secretaries Vilsak and Seblius are the Co-Chairs of the Obama Administration’s Food Safety Working Group. The new web site was created jointly between HHS, USDA and FDA.
The new web site aims to help consumers by housing the latest food news from all federal government agencies in one location, highlighting food recall and contamination alerts, and providing tips on how to handle food safely. Previously, consumers had to search various locations trying to determine which agency managed which food product. This new web site aims to allow consumers to quickly determine who to contact to report alleged outbreaks of foodborne illness.
Congressional Legislation: These two initiatives come as Congress is considering a sweeping food-safety bill that gives the FDA more funding and authority to order recalls of products. The House passed a food-safety bill in July, and the Senate is expected to take up its version this fall.
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