Good-Bye Food Poisoning: President Signs Food Safety Bill

There may be one thing that most Democrats and Republicans can agree on: food safety. The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which the President signed into law on January 4th, is potentially good news to everyone. Foodborne diseases cause about 76 million illnesses and 5,000 deaths each year.

What does the FSMA mean to you?
If you’ve ever gone to the supermarket and avoided buying a food because of a recent outbreak, this bill helps prevent that. Right now it’s alfalfa sprouts, previously we’ve avoided: peanut butter, spinach, ground beef, tomatoes, peppers and the list goes on. The FSMA gives the FDA the power to inspect food production in the U.S. and imported foods ahead of time and more often. The goal is to catch problems before they occur instead of trying to contain the problem once it has spread.

Large companies will have to create strict plans on how to ensure safe production of their food and check the plan’s efficacy on a regular basis. This is important because, as we saw with peanut butter, if one major plant is contaminated and their food is used by hundreds of smaller manufacturers, an exponential number of products can become tainted.

With the FSMA, the FDA can recall contaminated products. The previous belief was that companies would want to recall a product that was contaminated, so the FDA could only request that they do so, except for some products such as infant formula. While companies would comply, they sometimes took their sweet time doing so, thus putting the lives of numerous Americans at risk.

Some were concerned that this new bill would unfairly target small-scale, organic farmers who sell at farmers markets. Since these farmers have never been considered the cause of a major outbreak, the Tester-Hagan Amendment was added to keep small-scale and local farmers under state and local regulations, not the new federal regulations.

While the FSMA will hopefully reduce contaminated food, we each need to do our parts. Keep in mind these FYI Food Safety Tips:

  • Keep food out in the temperature danger zone (between 40 and 140 F) for the least amount of time possible, definitely less than two hours. This range provides an ideal temperature for bacteria to grow. Thaw foods in the refrigerator or microwave not the countertop.
  • Avoid cross-contamination: Raw meats should never come in direct or indirect contact with other foods. After cutting raw chicken, wash the knife with soap and hot water before cutting your zucchini. The same goes for the cutting board and your hands!
  • Use a thermometer when cooking meats, poultry, egg or seafood, and follow the USDA guidelines for ideal internal temperatures.
  • When in doubt, throw it out: If it smells kind of funny, be safe and toss it in the garbage. Your stomach will thank you.
  • Summertime: Consider your picnic table – meat, eggs, sprouts might go bad in the summer sun. Keep foods in the cooler and bring them out in small portions.
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