Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) Tuesday introduced legislation to require that food producers take responsibility for keeping food free from harmful pathogens.

The bill would amend the Poultry Products Inspection Act, the Federal Meat Inspection Act, and the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act to prohibit the sale of any food that has not been certified to be pathogen-free.

“Food producers must be obligated to produce food that is free of pathogens.” Senator Feinstein said. “It is the responsibility of the food producer, not the consumer, to make sure our food safe to eat.”

“Anyone who visits the websites of the USDA or the FDA can see that recalls are not a rare occurrence. In the last month, these two federal agencies recalled thousands of pounds of beef because of E. coli contamination, packages of apples and carrots that contained botulism spores, and dried plums that contained traces of lead.

“Serious reform is needed. This bill would require companies that process any kind of food, from ground beef to frozen pot pies, to test their finished products and their ingredients to make sure that they are safe to eat and pathogen-free.”

Feinstein’s introduction of the bill comes after the deaths last month of two people, one from New York State and the other from New Hampshire, who died after eating ground beef contaminated with E. coli O157:H7.  Fairbank Farms, a western New York processor, recalled 545,699 pounds of beef products suspected of causing the deaths.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that foodborne illnesses sicken up to 76 million people, cause 325,000 hospital visits and result in more than 5,000 deaths each year.

The Processed Food Safety Act requires everyone in the food chain to take responsibility for keeping food free of harmful pathogens. Specifically, the bill:

  • Amends the Poultry Products Inspection Act, the Meat Inspection Act and the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to prohibit the sale of any processed poultry, meat and FDA-regulated food that has not either undergone a pathogen reduction treatment, or been certified to contain no verifiable traces of pathogens.
  • Requires that labels on ground beef, or any other ground meat product, specifically name every cut of meat that is contained in the product, and;
  • Does away with loopholes in current laws that allow for producers to add coloring, synthetic flavorings and spices to their products without informing the consumer.

Sen. Feinstein claims that by enacting these simple changes, the Processed Food Safety Act will drastically reduce the presence of pathogens in our food and improve the ability of the consumer to make informed choices about the products they wish to eat.

No estimates were available on how much it would cost federal agencies to implement the bill, nor how much it might raise food prices.