OSHA enacts food safety whistle-blower protections

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration published regulations Wednesday to protect from retaliation any workers who report violations under the Obama administration’s sweeping food safety overhaul.

OSHA issued a final interim rule, meaning the regulations take effect immediately but interested parties and members of the public can submit comments for the next 60 days.

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The rule protects any workers who report violations under the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011. The statute is still under construction, as the Food and Drug Administration works to complete several regulations that together represent the largest food safety overhaul in 70 years.

The law is intended to shift the nation’s food safety net from a system that responds to illness outbreaks to one that prevents them. The regulations extend to every corner of the food industry, including farms, factories, import operations and even pet food.

The rule published Wednesday protects any workers who provide information about illegal activities during the manufacture, processing, packing, transporting, distribution, reception, holding or importation of food.

They establish a process for handling complaints from whistle-blowers, who are given 180 days to file formal reports against their employer with the Labor Department.

“This interim final rule establishes procedures, burdens of proof, remedies and statutes of limitations similar to other whistleblower protection statutes that OSHA administers,” the agency said Wednesday.

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