October 30, 2014

Food Poisoning Outbreaks Show Need For New FSMA Import Rules

The number of cases in the hepatitis A outbreak linked to frozen berry mix that contains imported pomegranate seeds continued its steady climb this week as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued final reports on two Salmonella outbreaks linked to imported foods- cucumbers from Mexico and tahini paste from Turkey. Over the last few months, these three outbreaks have sickened at least 222 people- killing one of them, as proposed food safety rules for imported foods gather dust in Washington.

Townsend Farms Pomegranate SeedsTwo and a half years after President Obama signed the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) almost nothing has happened. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was tasked with filling in the details of the food safety reforms outlined in FSMA, but so far only two proposed rules (produce safety and preventative controls) have emerged and, because of industry pressure, their comment periods have been extended until the fall. Proposals for imported food safety rules are absent in this glacial moraine.

How could they help? Here is the how the FDA describes the rule: “For the first time, importers will be specifically required to have a program to verify that the food products they are bringing into this country are safe. Among other things, importers will need to verify that their suppliers are in compliance with reasonably appropriate risk-based preventive controls that provide the same level of public health protection as those required under FSMA.” One of the import provisions is called the Foreign Supplier Verification Program which requires “importers to conduct risk-based foreign supplier verification activities to verify that imported food is not, among other things, adulterated and that it was produced in compliance with FDA’s preventive controls requirements and produce safety standards, where applicable.”

The outbreaks mentioned above are just the most recent examples. Three of the 10 largest multistate food poisoning outbreaks of 2012 were linked to imported foods (tuna, cheese, mangoes) And there are product recalls including dozens for smoked salmon and problems with imported pet foods.

A federal judge has ordered the FDA to publish all regulations covering domestic and imported foods outlined in the FSMA by June 30, 2015. For American consumers, that date can’t come soon enough.

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