The deadly Salmonella outbreak linked to Indiana-grown cantaloupe in 20 states is the latest in a series of foodborne illness crises that underscore the need to implement rules in the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), the Pew Health Group told Food Safety News on Tuesday.
Parts of FSMA — signed into law by President Obama in January 2011 — require the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to establish a number of food safety rules, including new standards for growing fruits and vegetables. Those rules were originally supposed to come out at the beginning of 2012, but eight months later, they are still languishing behind government doors.
The current snag in the process is at the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the cabinet-level office that assists in preparing the federal budget. After FDA drafted its rules, it sent them for review to the OMB, which is now still in the process of reviewing and revising them.
In the meantime, the public has not seen exactly what these rules might entail or how they will work. While consumers and food safety experts wait for the rules to come out, more preventable produce outbreaks keep cropping up, Pew said.
“Until we get these rules finalized, we’re going to keep seeing these outbreaks,” said Sandra Eskin, project director of the Pew Health Group’s Food Safety Campaign.
While it is impossible to say whether new FDA rules would have prevented any particular outbreak, Pew and other food safety advocates believe new standards could go a long way in preventing illness and death caused by foodborne pathogens.
Eskin said that instead of reviewing the new FDA rules internally, the OMB should release the proposed ideas for public review.
“The only way you’re going to get it right is to let everyone provide some input so that we know the final rule is workable,” Eskin said. “Yes, it’s complicated, but it’s the only way we’re going to get these rules implemented.”
Federal agencies will often present their proposed rules for public comment periods, and Eskin hopes that’s the case with these FSMA rules. But the question remains of when the proposals might get released. OMB’s review has no clear timeframe.
Last August — eight months after the passing of the FSMA — Colorado-grown cantaloupes contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes sickened at least 147 people and killed 33 in one of the deadliest foodborne illness outbreaks in U.S. history.
Now, a year later and in the shadow of missed release dates, another 141 people have fallen ill from Salmonella-tainted cantaloupes and two have died.
“As these proposals continue to be delayed, there have been numerous outbreaks that could have been prevented with new standards,” Eskin said. “Let’s get the proposals released. Let’s see what they say. Let’s get them right by starting a robust commenting period. “© Food Safety News