After much delay, and much not-so-secret disgust, the Food and Drug Administration came out with rules aimed at curbing food-borne illness Friday. By the agency's own admission, this marks "the first time we've ever had enforceable standards on the farm." That quote comes from the FDA's Deputy Comissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine, Michael Taylor, who told Food Safety News's Helena Bottemiller that "it's a big deal that these [rules] are coming out because it's the central framework for prevention." The major new guidelines emerge from the Food Safety Modernization Act, which Congress passed in 2010 in the wake of a nasty spinach E. coli outbreak and many other food safety scares.
Some have been frustrated that it took the FDA two years to arrive at the changes. In a strange role reversal, produce farmers have been practically begging the FDA to regulate their industry for years, with the United Fresh Produce Association repeatedly requesting "mandatory federal standards for fresh produce." And it's not hard to see why. Two of last year's bigger salmonella outbreaks originated from cantaloupe and mango farms. The CDC estimates that one in six Americans is affected by a foodborne pathogen each year, with 128,000 of them ending up hospitalized and 3,000 of them dying from such illnesses. Most of us probably assume that the produce we buy in grocery stores has been meticulously screened for bacteria and viruses. But the Pew Charitable Trust's director of food programs, Erik Olson, says the reality is that we've been using the same food safety laws "since the Great Depression." Here's how the proposed new rules will affect produce farmers... finally.