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Senate Passes Sweeping Food Safety & Inspection Reform Bill

11/30/2010 -The Senate Tuesday passed legislation touted as the country’s biggest food safety overhaul in 70 years.  If enacted the law would increase inspections and empower the government to require food recalls, rather than simply recommending them.

The Senate passed the bill 73-25 during the post-midterm election “lame duck” session. While the legislation differs from a version approved by the House of Representatives, The New York Timesreported that the House may simply vote on the Senate version, eliminating a need for closed-door negotiations before final votes.

According andThe Associated Press, the bill would also:Require increased, risk-based inspections of domestic and foreign food facilities. The riskiest domestic facilities would be inspected every three years.Require larger food processors and manufacturers to register with the Food and Drug Administration and develop  written food safety plans by manufacturers that include hazard analysis and plans for implementing corrective measures. The plans would be accessible to the government in the case of emergencies.Require establishment of a food tracing system that would streamline the process of finding the source of contamination, should an outbreak occur.Require importers to verify the safety of all imported foods to make sure it's in accordance with U.S. food safety guidelines.Require the FDA to create new produce safety regulations for producers of the highest-risk fruits and vegetables.

The bill is projected to cost $1.4 billion, while critics argue that manufacturers’ compliance costs would be passed on to consumers. Bill opponent U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), estimated those costs at $300-$400 million per year,according to Bloomberg, which reported the cost of U.S. foodborne illness at $152 billion per year.

Bloomberg described the bill’s “inspection focus:”

The Senate bill calls for the FDA to inspect at least 600 foreign food facilities within a year of enactment, and double its number of foreign inspections in each subsequent year for five years. The measure would require inspections every three years for U.S. manufacturing and processing plants the FDA deems to be at a high risk for contamination, and every five years for all other domestic facilities.

Under that schedule, 50,000 foreign and domestic food facilities would be inspected in 2015 by the FDA or by federal, state, local or foreign officials acting on the agency’s behalf, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

The bill followed a series of deadly foodborne illness outbreaks and product recalls including 2006’s bagged baby spinach recall, which killed five and sickened more than 200; the 2008-2009 peanut butter salmonella outbreak that killed nine and sickened close to 700; and this year’s recall of roughly 500 million eggs after salmonella sickened at least 2,000 people.

The latter two cases revealed unsafe, highly unsanitary conditions in product manufacturing and processing facilities.

♦ Photo byHouse Of Sims/Flickr