FDA Proposes Heightened Rules for Imported Foods

Contaminated food lawyers at Pints & Mullins are glad to announce that the FDA recently proposed long-awaited rules and regulations that will, with hope, re-ensure the cleanliness and safety of the food imported into the United States. The rule changes come in the wake of several, highly-fatal disease outbreaks.

The improved standards will encompass all imported food coming into the country and is intended to strengthen the Food Safety Modernization Act, which President Barack Obama signed into law in January 2011. One may wonder what took the FDA 18 months to propose – the new standards will essentially just require importers to adhere to the same food regulations imposed on our own farms and food processing plants.

Many others though the same thing. When the January 2012 deadline came and went, the Center for Food Safety sued the FDA. A federal judge agreed, and created a schedule for the FDA to implement the heightened standards. Both food safety groups and federal officials affirm that the new measures are absolutely vital to food safety in the U.S.

The FDA Deputy Commissioner has been pushing hard for the new rules for quite some time. He sees the proposal as a big step forward in the transformation efforts of the U.S. food system, aimed on prevention rather than reaction. The new rules will, among other things, crate a duty on the part of the importer to know exactly where all foods, seeds included, are coming from.

It may come as a surprise to learn that, until now, the federal government was able to check the food coming in but unable to fully examine about 98% of the food imported into the country for safety. Under the new rules, importers will be required to know whether their supplying farms or processors are taking necessary steps to cut or eliminate safety risks. They will also be required to work with third-part auditors who will follow-up with them and their suppliers, checking that the steps are indeed being executed.

The United States imports an extraordinary amount of food, and the rate is only increasing. About 15% of all food in the country is imported; 30% of fresh fruits and vegetables are imported; and 80% of seafood is from other countries. Consequently, about eight of the nearly 20 multistate disease outbreaks since 2011 were caused by imported products. We have written extensively about the recent hepatitis A outbreak linked to infected pomegranate seeds, imported from Turkey, which were included in a frozen berry mix sold at Costco.

Among the other major recent recalls include a June 2013 outbreak in which 16 people were infected with salmonella from contaminate tahini sesame paste imported from Turkey. In 2012, over 400 people were diagnosed with salmonella from sushi rolls containing a tainted scraped tuna product from India. Likewise, over 100 people were sickened in 2011 after consuming papayas from Mexico. Similarly, Mexican cucumbers were linked to a salmonella outbreak earlier in 2013 that made nearly 85 people ill.

In the 2014 fiscal budget, the federal government is seeking about $260 million in additional FDA funding for the new food laws. From that, $42 million will be for increased federal budget authority, and $221 million will be for proposed inspections and import-entry fees, which will be paid by importers.

FDA officials stated that the new standards embody a paradigm shift, so the responsibility will no longer rest solely on the FDA, but on the importers and their suppliers to prevent problems. The agency will continue to check products when it is coming into the country, however, along with an increase in foreign inspections and collaboration with other governments.

About 3,000 Americans die every year from food-borne illness, which often take the lives of our most vulnerable citizens: young children, senior citizens, and those with compromised immune systems, such as AIDS and cancer patients. The agency is planning to release proposed rules on preventative controls for pet food and animal feed as well this year. It is also working on standards to better control intentional tampering with food, and rules for transportation of foods.

Food recall lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm hope the increased standards will lead to a substantial decline in food-borne illness and death in the ensuing months and years. If you or a loved one was hospitalized or otherwise seriously sickened after consuming a contaminated product, you have important legal rights, and may be entitled to significant compensation for your pain and suffering.

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