The Food Safety Modernization Act of 2010 (FSMA) has addressed a long-anticipated area of concern which affects people just like you and me. Prior to the FSMA, the last major amendment made to food safety regulation was the Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act (FDC) Act of 1938 passed by Franklin D. Roosevelt. Nowadays, our food often travels more than we do, which means that we need a food regulation protocol that is meant for the 21st century.
The FSMA grants the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) a wide array of new powers. Farms and food facilities are now required to keep detailed logs of information with plans for preventative controls and measures, as well as a plan of action in the event of an outbreak of foodborne illness. These farms must produce and abide by these regulations. The FSMA grants the FDA the power of more frequent inspection of food sources (up to once every 2 years; prior to the FSMA, it was not uncommon for food sources to go between five and ten years without inspection). If food sources aren’t complying with guidelines, they can be subject to a mandatory recall by the FDA and/or fined. The FDA can also now inspect US food sources internationally, something that has never been done before. Food sources abroad that fail inspection will no longer be able to have their food shipped to the US. Contamination or unsafe food can arise from a number of sources including poor worker hygiene, packaging conditions, unsanitary equipment and incorrect temperature storage conditions. Prior to the FSMA, the FDA did not have this kind of preventative power and contaminated food was shipped for us to eat more than we would like to imagine!
Although the FSMA puts a financial strain on farms and food facilities, most of us would agree that there is no price too high to pay for food security. Others would argue that food in the US was already safe enough. To get an idea of the big picture of US food security, we can look at some statistics. On average, every year, 48 million Americans get sick. This means that at any given time, we have a 1 in 6 chance of consuming a foodborne pathogen. Furthermore, 128,000 Americans are hospitalized annually while 3,000 do not survive the illness. Cases rarely get coverage because they are not a popular media topic. And these figures are only documented cases. There are many people who do not report their conditions and simply wait for them to pass. Certain pathogens would not necessarily require hospitalization or medication. However, the most common diseases found in food are Salmonella, E.coli, Norovirus and Listeria. These pathogens are known to be deadly and symptoms of them should be taken seriously.
The idea of the FSMA stems all the way back to the September 11th, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center. With a heightened sense of vulnerability, the United States implemented the Bioterrorism Act of 2002. This legislation outlined a defense and plan of action in the event of germ warfare against the US. The FSMA is an extension of the Bioterrorism Act that has gained much more notoriety than its predecessor. With such a high risk of foodborne illness in recent years, the FSMA addresses a large risk faced by all Americans that is extremely preventable. From now in the first couple of years and onward for generations, we can take comfort in knowing that our food sources are the safest that they have ever been!