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Food Safety Progress Not Waiting on Washington

Food Safety Progress Not Waiting on Washington

There’s an important piece of food safety regulation working its way through Washington, and it’s not exactly speeding. Some consumer groups call the pace too slow and claim it will compromise overall safety.

But there’s a more optimistic viewpoint surrounding implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which was signed by President Obama in January 2011 and is now awaiting approval of its rules by the Office of Management and Budget. This more upbeat view goes something like this:

Laws are complicated to iron out, but it’s better to wait a bit longer and get it right. While the final regulations will be very helpful, progress doesn’t freeze until Washington acts. The industry is moving forward with training, tools and best practices, and is exceeding many standards likely to be promulgated.

Those points, which seem quite on target, were made to me in separate conversations with Hilary Thesmar, vice president, Food Safety Programs, Food Marketing Institute, and Leon Bruner, senior vice president for Scientific and Regulatory Affairs and chief science officer, Grocery Manufacturers Association.

Let’s step back for a moment to recall that FSMA was intended to help the Food and Drug Administration and the industry accelerate the use of preventative measures so food safety becomes less a matter of responding to crises. This direction is already well under way with retailers and suppliers.

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The industry considers this act to be very important. FMI is closely watching provisions ranging from hazardous analysis and preventative controls to import safety and the use of certification programs (one of which is SQF, owned by FMI), Thesmar said.

The preventative controls provisions are based on strategies and techniques “extremely well known to the industry” that will increasingly be rolled out to more products, Bruner said.

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The story gets more upbeat with FMI’s latest data on consumer perceptions of food safety. Some 89% of consumers in a survey said they are mostly or completely confident in the safety of foods in grocery stores, which is more than 20 points higher than in 2007.

No one is discounting the importance of finalizing FSMA. But it’s important to avoid the perception that progress has come to a halt because of delays. That would be inaccurate and a disservice to all the industry’s efforts.

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