Regulating Food Safety
Four years after its passage, the federal Food Safety Modernization Act remains a political football. And with final regulations for key provisions set to be issued in August, some retailers, manufacturers and distributors are not fully prepared.
Adding to the complexity, lawmakers have proposed consolidating food safety oversight within one government agency. In January, Senate Minority Whip Richard Durbin, D-Ill., and Representative Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., introduced the Safe Food Act to remove food safety oversight responsibilities from the Agriculture Department, Food and Drug Administration and a dozen other agencies and place it solely under the Department of Health and Human Services. The proposal was included in President Obama’s $3.99 trillion 2016 budget, which seeks $148 million for implementation of FSMA .
Hilary Thesmar, vice president of food safety programs for the Food Marketing Institute, is among those concerned with several FSMA provisions. The FDA has already acted on a provision that calls for access to a company’s records. Rules on preventative controls for human and animal food are scheduled to be issued August 30, with those for produce safety, foreign supplier verification and third-party accreditation due in March 2016 and those for intentional adulteration due in May 2016.
Retail companies that sell food, including those that manufacture food or sell private label products, will be covered under the regulations. The largest impact for most retailers will be at distribution centers and in transportation and importing. Distribution centers will be required to be registered and to implement hazard analysis and critical control points systems along with preventive safety plans.
“There are different levels of readiness and awareness,” Thesmar says. “We’re trying to make sure our members are aware of all the issues. And FDA and state officials are doing a lot of outreach to let people know the regulations are coming.”
One of the goals of the new law is that someone in the United States should have legal responsibility for imported products. Importers will be responsible for verifying that food safety plans at the point of export are equivalent to controls in the United States.
“But there is some question about who owns the product at the time of import. It could be the retailer, distributor or wholesaler. It’s still a gray area,” Thesmar says. “It’s hard to say the retailer is not responsible if their name is on the product. However, there is some confusion because the FDA didn’t understand how complex the business relationship is in the food industry. We’re hoping to clarify all this on the final rule.”
Other provisions aimed at improving the safety of imported foods include certification of certain types of imported foods, new importer verification requirements that make importers partially accountable for safety, and a program to allow expedited entry for products compliant with U.S. laws and regulations. The requirements could be particularly important considering there were an estimated 88,000 shipments of imported food last year.