After President Obama signed the Food Safety Modernization Act into law in January 2011, Margaret Hamburg has spent the last year developing its guiding rules through outreach, public meetings and sending delegates to China, Mexico and Canada for input and getting it implemented.
“As a result of FSMA, FDA has developed four ‘foundational rules’ to apply to the nation’s food safety system for the 21st century,” said Hamburg, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. “These rules include preventive controls for human food; preventive controls for animal food; produce safety; and foreign supplier verification. We are working hard to publish these proposed rules soon.”
Hamburg said the FSMA will help the FDA focus on prevention and allow the agency to be proactive in stopping the spread of foodborne illnesses.
“FSMA shifts our food safety focus from reaction and response to prevention — from catching food safety problems after the fact to systematically building in prudent preventive measures across the food system,” Hamburg said.
The FDA has already had the opportunity to test the prevention clause for the first time. Last August, after three inspections and a warning letter, the agency issued a detention order for spices at Maywood, Calif.-based Bonaterra Products after evidence of live and dead insects were found in the products.
The FSMA isn’t the only program the FDA has announced. The FDA also released its Foods and Veterinary Medicine Program Strategic plan outlining its priorities, which support the FSMA’s goals. Among the priorities outlined are improving detection and response to foodborne outbreaks and contamination, increasing consumer awareness about choosing a healthy diet, and ensuring compliance with preventative methods.
The FDA is also addressing the growing debate over the labeling of foods such as gluten-free products and genetically modified organisms. Currently Hamburg said all labeling must be truthful, not misleading, and is the manufacturer’s responsibility but the FDA is currently reviewing two citizen petitions regarding bioengineered foods and considering the issues presented.
“In the foods area, without a doubt, FSMA will be the most important initiative FDA will be working on during the coming year.”
There are three specific areas where Hamburg plans to focus on FSMA rollout: prevention, industry responsibility and globalization. Prevention means building in food safety measures across the system, from farms to stores. But the responsibility is falling on the food industry.
“FDA plays its role most effectively by setting science-based standards and working to ensure high rates of industry compliance,” Hamburg said.
Finally, in the growing international world, prevention will also apply to the growing amount of imported foods that the FDA oversees.
Hamburg said, “If we can accomplish these goals, we will have a very full year.”