Foodborne illnesses in the 2000s cost businesses billions of dollars in costly recalls, legal expenses and lost sales. To address the issues of foodborne illness, the FDA passed the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). The first major piece of federal law addressing food safety since 1938, the FSMA’s aim is to prevent the conditions that can lead to foodborne illness instead of reacting when a problem occurs. Final rules for the FSMA should be issued in the fall of 2015 and spring of next year.
Why the FSMA Was Needed
In the early 2000s, the federal government revisited food safety laws after a number of expensive and widespread foodborne illnesses. High profile cases included a salmonella poisoning outbreak, caused by contaminated peanut butter that made 410 people in 43 states sick and killed three people. In an incident involving baby spinach, people in 26 states became ill with E. coli. Nearly 200 people became sick, with 31 suffering permanent kidney damage and three dying from the illness.
The Centers for Disease Control estimates that foodborne illness is responsible for 48 million illnesses every year. One hundred twenty-eight thousand people are hospitalized each year and three thousand die because of known and unknown contamination in food. The costs for food businesses exceed $75 billion every year. The patchwork of state food safety laws was found to be inadequate; it was decided that clear federal rules were needed.
What Does the FSMA Mean for Businesses
Rules for the FSMA are still being finalized. Companies will not know what their obligations are until next year. The FDA’s mandate includes several major new directions, and companies can infer that there will be greater regulatory demands in the pursuit of reducing deaths, illnesses and economic costs that are associated with foodborne illness. Among the directions guiding the new rules:
The new policy will be prevention-first. Facilities will need to be safer to prevent outbreaks from happening.
State food safety and federal food safety systems will be integrated. This will lead to requirements that are consistent nationwide. Additionally, regulators hope that the new system will be more efficient.
Food companies will be subject to more frequent, targeted inspections. Companies who work with materials which are considered high risk can expect more inspections than in the past. Additionally, data will be collected to help assess risk and prevent outbreaks.
Regulators will work with risk-based priorities. Based on the information that is collected, resources for inspections will be allocated on the basis of the risk of outbreaks.
The FDA is requesting federal funding to get the new rules, data collection, and inspections in place. Companies should expect costs on their end to comply with the new requirements. It will also be necessary to ensure that all personnel are properly trained in food safety and in modern records management.
When our food systems are well-regulated and well-managed, we have the power to reduce the incidence of foodborne contagions. These efforts can increase public trust, which can lead to more loyalty to your brand. Expensive and cumbersome recalls can be avoided. And, by providing your customers with the best-managed foods, you can help keep them safer and happier, and coming back to your company.