FDA proposes last of food safety regs

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Friday issued the last of seven proposed regulations that together comprise the largest U.S. food safety update in 70 years.

The action completes the first phase of rulemaking under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), and comes more than a year after the first regulations were floated last January.

“We are now one step closer to fully implementing the comprehensive regulatory framework for prevention that will strengthen the FDA’s inspection and compliance tools, modernize oversight of the nation’s food safety system, and prevent foodborne illnesses before they happen,” said FDA deputy commissioner Michael Taylor, the Obama administration’s top food safety official.

The draft regulations unveiled Friday would impose new requirements on the transport of food over the nation's roads and rails. Their aim is to stave off contamination at vulnerable points in the food supply chain.

Among the provisions is a new mandate requiring shippers to inspect trucks for cleanliness before loading any food that is not completely enclosed in containers, including produce in vented boxes.

The regulations would cover international shippers who transport food for U.S. consumption, but they would not apply to shippers, receivers or carriers whose operations bill less than $500,000 in total annual sales.

Nor would they apply to shipments of fully packaged shelf-stable foods, live food animals or raw agricultural commodities when transported by farms.

Businesses would have to comply with the law between one and two years after it is finalized, depending on their size.

The proposal will be published in the Federal Register next Wednesday, beginning a public comment period that closes on May 31. The FDA is also holding a series of public hearings on the rule to take place in February and March in Illinois, California and Maryland.

The action comes more than three years after FSMA was enacted.

The statute gave the FDA until 2012 to the put all of the new rules in place. The agency missed that deadline, drawing a lawsuit from the Center for Food Safety, a watchdog group that has demanded action in accordance with the law.

Earlier this year, a federal court ordered the FDA to finalize all rules related to the overhaul by the mid-2015, though Taylor has said that too would be a challenge.