The Senate needs to pass the Linda Rivera Act.

 Linda Rivera (Senator Harry Reid’s Nevada constituent) ate premade cookie dough that was contaminated with E. coli O157:H7.  She has suffered liver and kidney failure, a stroke and the removal of her large intestine.  She has been hospitalized since May 2009 and has incurred over $4.5 million in medical expenses.  S. 510 should be renamed for her.

S. 510, the Food Safety Modernization Act, has been deemed dead more than once.  I do not have a crystal ball to know if it will ever surface again, or why it even died in the first place, but here is a bit of what we are giving up by not passing it.  I have read S. 510 more than a few times, but Senate staffers did a great job of summarizing it and I have used that, in part, as an outline.

Only foods already regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will be subject to S. 510.  Section 403 maintains the existing firewall between FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture regulated foods and agricultural products.  The beef industry has nothing to worry about here.

Under the Bioterrorism Act of 2002, certain food businesses were considered “facilities” and had to register with FDA.  Farms and restaurants were exempted. This definition is not changed in S. 510.  If an entity does not need to register now, it will not need to register under S. 510.  You are not required to register your backyard garden.

Small entities that produce food for their own consumption or market the majority of their food directly to consumers or restaurants are not subject to registration or new record-keeping requirements under S. 510.  This includes food sold through farmers’ markets; bake sales, public events, and organizational fundraisers.  Throughout the bill, consideration is given to the unique agricultural practices and requirements of organic foods under the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990.  If you sell your products locally and not into the broader stream of commerce, this act simply does not apply to you.

Small businesses are given regulatory flexibility throughout S. 510.  For example, small processors are given additional time to comply with new food safety practices and guidelines created by the bill and the Secretary may modify or exempt small processors from new hazard analysis and preventive control requirements based on size and risk.  The legislation also requires the FDA to publish several user-friendly, small entity compliance guides to assist firms with the implementation of new practices.

In coordination with the Secretary of Agriculture, FDA develops science-based standards for the safe production and harvesting of fruits and vegetables.  Priority is given to specific fruits and vegetables that have the highest risk of foodborne illness outbreaks.

Flexibility is given for different growing, production, and harvesting techniques.  FDA has the discretion to limit produce safety standards for small and very small entities that produce or harvest food, which pose little or no serious risk to human health.  Consideration is also given to conservation and environmental standards already established by federal natural resource and wildlife agencies. Exemptions are also available for low-risk commodities.  FDA must minimize the burden of paperwork and, as appropriate, the number of separate standards for separates foods.

The bill requires FDA to coordinate with the extension activities of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in educating growers and small processors about any new practices required by S. 510.  Necessary funds are authorized to conduct these extension activities. 

The bill also provides for the training and education of state, local, and tribal authorities to facilitate the implementation of new standards under the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act.  Competitive grants are made available, for up to 3 years, to support these efforts to enhance education, training, and technical assistance.

The ability to trace back potentially unsafe food in the event of a foodborne illness outbreak is important.  For the purpose of traceability, farms and small businesses that are not food facilities are not expected to create new records. During an active investigation of a foodborne illness outbreak, in consultation with state and local officials, the Secretary may ask a farm to identify potential immediate recipients of food if it is necessary to protect public health or mitigate a foodborne illness outbreak. Limitations are also included for restaurants, commingled agricultural commodities, direct-to-consumer sales, fishing vessels and products carrying an identity-preserved label.

A section of the bill that has not had much notice calls for increased surveillance by local, state and federal heath authorities to track foodborne illnesses.  The Department of Health and Human Services is to establish a pilot project to improve tracking methods and enhance surveillance systems, which can help regulators catch outbreaks much earlier.

Perhaps the bill is not perfect–nothing humans do is– but passing it is better than doing nothing at all.  Do it for Linda.