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Proposed changes to food safety act aimed at reducing food-borne illness

The two-year-old Food Safety Modernization Act, implemented to combat a rising number of food-borne illness cases in the United States, may see some changes.

The Food and Drug Administration’s new rules to deal with food safety at the farm and manufacturing level came to the proposal state in January.

“Each year, 48 million people get sick with food-borne illnesses, resulting in the death of 3,000 people,” said Steve Seideman, extension food processing specialist with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. “Most of these food-borne outbreaks are the result of three bacteria—Salmonella, Listeria and E. coli.”

Over the last two decades, most food-borne illnesses have been traced back to contamination that occurred during harvesting, packing or transportation, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Because these infections are spread through feces, the proposed rules would require growers to develop food safety plans that address water safety, worker health and hygiene, animals and animal-based fertilizers, and equipment and building cleanliness are all areas that need to be addressed.

“Through the Food Safety Modernization Act, the FDA is embracing Good Agricultural Practices, or GAP, to help shift the national focus from responding to problems to preventing problems,” Seideman said.

Crops covered by the new regulations are generally ones consumed fresh, such as lettuce, cabbage, and other leafy vegetables; cantaloupe, citrus, strawberries, and other fruit; tomatoes, peppers, onions, and mushrooms; and some nuts, such as walnuts.

If approved, new rules would not be enforced all at once, and farmers at different income levels have different timespans in which to comply.

Very small farms whose annual production is valued at less than $250,000 per year have four years to comply after the effective date.

Farms making annual income less than $500,000 have three years to comply.

Farms making annual income more than $500,000 have two years to comply.

The rules have some exemptions, including:

Grains;

Produce that is generally cooked before consumption;

Produce for personal use;

Farmers with annual income of less than $25,000; and

Farmers whose total annual sales are than $500,000 per year and sell directly to consumers within the same state, or within 275 miles of the farm.

The FDA is accepting commentary on the proposed rules, either electronically or by mail, until May 16. If approved, the regulations are slated to take effect in July 2014. Comments may be addressed to Dockets Management, FDA, 5630 Fishers Lane, Room 1061, HFA 305, Rockville, MD 20852.

For more information about food safety, visit extension’s website, www.uaex.edu , or contact your county Extension agent. Fact sheets about the proposed rule changes may be available through your county office.

Date: 4/22/2013



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