Picking apples at an orchard

Americans have access to the world’s safest and most abundant food supply. When it comes to preventing foodborne illness, however, there is always room for improvement. In an effort to enhance existing food safety practices and decrease the risk of foodborne illnesses, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama in 2011.

“The FSMA is the most sweeping reform of our nation’s food safety laws in more than 70 years,” says Ryan Davis, program manager for the Office of Dairy and Foods in the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS). “Its intention is to ensure that the U.S. food supply is safe by shifting the focus from responding to food contamination and other food safety concerns to preventing them.”

According to Davis, each year, about one in six Americans experiences a foodborne illness of some degree. That represents a $15.6 billion cost to the American economy every year through lost wages and productivity, doctor and hospital costs and other factors. Many of these illnesses could be prevented through proper production, handling, processing, packaging, or marketing of food.

“This is a significant public health burden that is largely preventable, and FSMA aims to specifically prevent food safety problems, not merely react once they occur,” Davis says.

The new regulations and rules required by the new law focus on prevention, inspection, compliance to standards, imported food safety, response and enhanced partnerships between the FDA, individual states and communities. These new rules apply to food manufacturers and produce growers in the U.S., as well as foods imported from other countries. Since they have not been previously regulated in this manner, perhaps the most challenging and significant rule is the one applied to produce growers. In response to this new rule, the VDACS Food Safety Program will increase outreach and education efforts for producers, purveyors and produce inspectors.

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Outreach programs will emphasize the use of clean water on the farm, proper use of fertilizer, health and hygiene of the farm workers, control of domesticated and wild animals at the farm, and proper use of and maintenance of sanitary equipment, tools and buildings.

In addition, food safety specialists will continue to inspect produce and perform ongoing sampling programs to verify the safety of the food and the compliance of the facilities where they are produced.

With increased inspections, sampling and producer compliance, less food will be contaminated and recalled. This will decrease food waste and increase the availability of food throughout the country.

“FSMA will make the food supply safe to consume, not only for the typical American, but also for those in need of food,” Davis says.

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