The proposed measures come as a result of recommendations from the Food Safety Working Group, which was set up by President Obama in March following a salmonella outbreak in peanut products that sickened 714 people, killed nine, and led to the largest food product recall in US history.
The group’s recommendations have been developed in anticipation of pending food safety legislation passing through the House of Representatives.
They include tighter regulation of egg and poultry products to reduce the incidence of salmonella; increased inspections of facilities that handle beef to detect E. coli more quickly; and new guidance to industry by the end of the month to help detect E. coli in leafy greens, melons and tomatoes.
The measures have also been designed to develop systems to improve the traceability of ingredients by working together with the food industry. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has said that it will issue guidance to the food industry about its role within the next three months.
It was a lack of traceability that prompted the formation of the Working Group, as the list of recalled peanut-containing products from the Peanut Corporation of America spiraled earlier this year. And traceability was back on the agenda late last month following the recall of E. coli-tainted cookie dough from Nestle late last month, which still has the FDA baffled as to the contaminant’s source.
The legislation currently passing through the House – The Food Safety Enhancement Act – would give the FDA the power to mandate product recalls and demand access to companies’ safety records, neither of which it is authorized to do under the current rules. In mid-June, a compromise was reached on controversial industry fees proposed by the bill to fund extra FDA inspections, halving them from $1,000 per facility to $500.
About one in four Americans is sickened by foodborne disease each year, 325,000 are hospitalized, and about 5,000 die. Since the early 90s, foodborne illness outbreaks have more than tripled to nearly 350 a year.