New, more stringent food safety rules ordered by Congress in 2010 are a step closer to reality. But it still will be at least three years before they can begin to affect the number of outbreaks, illnesses and deaths from salmonella and other food-borne pathogens.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 3,000 Americans or more die from these diseases each year, while about 1 in 6 Americans (48 million) gets sick and 128,000 are hospitalized. The Food and Drug Administration indicated the new rules could prevent almost 2 million illnesses annually.
Congress gave the FDA authority to require U.S. food producers and manufacturers to draw up detailed plans to ensure the safety of their products, giving large producers three years to comply and smaller facilities and growers even longer. Lawmakers ordered the FDA to inspect production facilities more frequently. Many plants today are not checked for years at a time.
The FDA also will more closely oversee imported foods, which account for about 15 percent of the nation's food supply by value. Imports totaled $76 billion through the first 10 months of 2012.
Perhaps the biggest new club given to the FDA in the legislation is the ability to order recalls of food itself rather than asking for industry cooperation. Over the years, the FDA's weakness on this point has delayed recall action a number of times. . . .
That's not ideal, considering the number of hospitalizations and deaths, but it is definitely progress.
*This is a guest editorial from The Omaha (Neb.) World-Herald.