Washington demands better food safety practices

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Reuters / U.S. regulators say proposed new food safety rules will make food processors and farms more accountable for reducing foodborne illnesses that kill or sicken thousands of Americans annually.

“These proposed regulations are a sign of progress,” said Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest and a critic of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“The new law should transform the FDA from an agency that tracks down outbreaks after the fact to an agency focused on preventing food contamination in the first place.”

Roughly one in six Americans suffers from a foodborne illness each year, and about 3,000 die. The usual culprits are salmonella, E. coli and listeria.

Food sickness has been linked to lettuce, cantaloupe, spinach, peppers and peanuts.

Under the new rules, makers of food to be sold in the U.S., whether produced at a foreign- or domestic-based facility, would have to develop a formal plan for preventing their products from causing foodborne illness. They would also need to have plans for correcting any problems that arise.

Companies will be required to document their plans and keep records to verify that they are preventing problems. Inspectors will be able to audit the program to enforce safety standards, which should “dramatically” improve the effectiveness of inspections, the FDA said.

A second rule proposes safety standard requirements for farms that produce and harvest fruits and vegetables. Farms would be required to meet national standards for the quality of water applied to their crops, as water is often a pathway for pathogens.

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