US tightens food safety rules to prevent foodborne illness

The US has proposed stringent food safety measures on both domestic and imported foods to prevent contamination of processed food, which has been a cause of illness of tens of thousands of Americans in recent years.

The new rules, when enforced, is expected to have considerable impact on import of processed foods in particular to that of countries like India, which officials feel, are lacking in the high-standards of food processing in the US.

The first proposed rule would require makers of food to be sold in the US, whether produced at a foreign- or domestic-based facility, to develop a formal plan for preventing their food products from causing foodborne illness.

It would also require them to have plans for correcting any problems that arise.
America's Federal Drug Administration also proposed enforceable safety standards for the production and harvesting of products on farms.

This rule proposes science- and risk-based standards for the safe production and harvesting of fruits and vegetables.

The burden of foodborne illness in the United States is substantial, federal officials said. One in six Americans suffer from a foodborne illness every year. Of those, nearly 130,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die from their illness.

Preventing foodborne illnesses will improve public health, reduce medical costs, and avoid the costly disruptions of the food system caused by illness outbreaks and large-scale recalls, FDA said.

The proposed rules are part of the effort to implement the landmark, bipartisan FDA Food Safety Modernization Act.

"The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act is a common sense law that shifts the food safety focus from reactive to preventive," said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

"With the support of industry, consumer groups, and the bipartisan leadership in Congress, we are establishing a science-based, flexible system to better prevent foodborne illness and protect American families," she said.

The FDA is proposing that larger farms be in compliance with most of the produce safety requirements 26 months after the final rule is published in the Federal Register.

Small and very small farms would have additional time to comply, and all farms would have additional time to comply with certain requirements related to water quality.

"The FDA knows that food safety, from farm to fork, requires partnership with industry, consumers, local, state and tribal governments, and our international trading partners," said FDA Commissioner Margaret A Hamburg.

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