Two years to the day since President Obama signed the FDA Food Safety Modernisation Act (FSMA) into law, proposals for new food safety rules were unveiled for public comment this week. The two rules represent the first steps in the implementation of the FSMA and will be followed by others with the common aim of reducing the incidence of foodborne disease in the USA.
The first rule requires all food manufacturers to put in place a formal food safety plan – a HACCP system in all but name – and will take the form of an amendment to an existing GMP regulation introduced in 1986. The second rule proposes enforceable standards for safe fruit and vegetable production, harvesting, packing and storage. Both rules seek to place the responsibility for food safety firmly with the producer rather than with the enforcement authorities, rather as the 2004 Food Hygiene Regulations did in the EU.
Reaction to the proposals has been generally positive, with food industry trade bodies widely supportive. Consumer organisations have also welcomed the new rules, although some have commented that proposals covering imported foods should also be published quickly. Reservations have also been expressed about the FDA’s ability to enforce the new rules.
While the introduction of sensible legislation should be welcomed by the food industry and by consumers, it really shouldn’t make much difference to responsible manufacturers. Most will already have some form of HACCP system in place because it’s an effective means of ensuring food safety and is often required by customers, especially retailers. In other words it is good business. Meeting the requirements of legislation should be the most basic criterion for a modern food safety system – it is usually possible, and necessary, to exceed those requirements by a wide margin. Where the law is important is in bringing to heel those operators who continue to believe they can cut corners on food safety. The new rules provide the FDA with more teeth to regulate these rogue businesses, but they also signal an intent to change the culture of those sections of the industry that have yet to learn the real value of good food safety practice.