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Under Harkin Leadership, Senate Passes Historic Food Safety Bill

Historic Overhaul will Help Prevent Food Contamination, Improve Illness Outbreak Response

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) hailed today’s Senate passage of legislation to better protect Americans against contaminated food and food-borne illness.  The measure passed by a vote of 73 to 25.  Harkin, who is Chairman of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), is a lead sponsor of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, and has worked closely with a bipartisan group of Senators over the past year to establish a broad coalition of support for the bill.

“For too long, we’ve allowed trips to the grocery store to be a gamble for American families,” said Harkin.  “The bipartisan bill passed by the Senate today will give our citizens some long-overdue peace of mind in the supermarket aisles, establishing tough new protections against contaminated food.  By working with our colleagues across the aisle, today we’ve scored an important victory for the American people.  I hope this will serve as an example of what we can do to improve the lives of citizens across the country by working together.”

The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act will:

  • Improve prevention of food contamination through identification of hazards before food becomes contaminated.
  • Allow the FDA to issue mandatory recalls in the event that businesses do not voluntarily recall harmful foods.
  • Require grocery stores and other food retailers to notify consumers if they have sold food that has been recalled.
  • Improve disease surveillance so outbreaks can be discovered earlier.  
  • Allow FDA to respond more quickly when food-borne illness does occur by improving the ability to trace contaminated food back to its source.

A summary of the legislation is below:

The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act

Recent outbreaks of food-borne illness and nationwide recalls of contaminated food from both domestic and foreign sources highlight the need to modernize and strengthen our nation’s food safety system. The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act is a bipartisan plan that provides new food safety tools and updates food safety standards to ensure the safety of our food supply.

Improves Our Capacity to Prevent Food Safety Problems

  • Hazard analysis and preventive controls: Facilities must identify, evaluate, and address hazards and prevent adulteration via a food safety plan. In certain circumstances, gives FDA access to these plans and relevant documentation.
  • Access to facility records: Expands FDA access to a registered facility’s records in a food emergency.
  • 3rd party testing: Provides for laboratory accreditation bodies to ensure U.S. food testing labs meet high quality standards and, in certain circumstances, requires food testing performed by these labs to be reported to FDA. Allows FDA to enable qualified 3rd parties to certify that foreign food facilities comply with U.S. food safety standards.
  • Imports: Requires importers to verify the safety of foreign suppliers and imported food. Allows FDA to require certification for high-risk foods, and to deny entry to a food that lacks certification or that is from a foreign facility that has refused U.S. inspectors.

Improves Our Capacity to Detect and Respond to Food-borne Illness Outbreaks

  • Inspection –Increases the number of FDA inspections at all food facilities.
  • Surveillance – Enhances food-borne illness surveillance systems to improve the collection, analysis, reporting, and usefulness of data on food-borne illnesses.
  • Traceability – Enhances tracking and tracing of high-risk foods and directs the Secretary to establish a pilot project to test and evaluate new methods for rapidly and effectively tracking and tracing food in the event of a food-borne illness outbreak.
  • Mandatory Recall – Allows FDA to initiate a mandatory recall of a food product when a company fails to voluntarily recall the contaminated product upon FDA’s request.
  • Suspension of Registration – Allows FDA to suspend a food facility’s registration if there is a reasonable probability that food from the facility will cause serious adverse health consequences or death.

Enhances U.S. Food Defense Capabilities – Directs FDA to help food companies protect their products from intentional contamination, and calls for a national strategy to protect our food supply from terrorist threats and rapidly respond to food emergencies.

Increases FDA Resources – Authorizes increased funding for FDA’s food safety activities, such as hiring personnel, and includes targeted non-compliance fees for domestic and foreign facilities.

Regulatory Flexibility – Modernizes our food safety system without being burdensome. Provides training for facilities to comply with the new safety requirements and includes special accommodations for small businesses and farms. Exempts small businesses from certain aspects of the produce standards and preventive control requirements.