Here’s a summary of what’s in the Senate food safety bill, from sponsor Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), as well as what’s needed to reconcile it with the House version, from the Congressional Research Service:
Who’s covered: Producers of all domestic and imported food products, including seafood, fish and shellfish, except meat and poultry and some egg products.
Who’s not: Farms and very small business owners who sell most of their food directly to consumers, restaurants, or grocery stores within the same state, or within 275 miles, and have less than $500,000 in annual sales, would be exempted from produce safety and preventive control requirements, which are outlined below. These producers would still be subject to local and state food safety regulation, and the FDA would be able to withdraw the exemption if their food was associated with an outbreak of foodborne illness.
The bill does not apply to meat and poultry because they are regulated by the Agriculture Department (USDA). Those foods already are subject to some of the same type of inspections and oversight now proposed for FDA-regulated foods.
Food-safety problem preventions:
— Larger food producers and manufacturers would have to identify, evaluate and address potential hazards and how they would prevent contamination in a detailed, written plan (formally, a Hazard Analysis in Critical Control Point, usually referred to by its initials HACCP).
— FDA would have more access to a registered facility’s records in a food emergency.
— Laboratory accreditation bodies would have to ensure that U.S. food testing labs meet high quality standards. In certain circumstances, food testing performed by these 3rd-party labs would have to be reported to FDA. FDA could enable qualified 3rd parties to certify that foreign food facilities comply with U.S. food safety standards.
— Stricter standards would be established for imports by requiring importers to verify the safety of foreign suppliers and imported food. FDA could require certification for high-risk foods, and deny entry to a food that lacks certification or that is from a foreign facility that has refused U.S. inspectors.
Response to Foodborne Illness Outbreaks:
— Increases the number of FDA inspections at all food facilities, directing the most resources to those operations with the highest risk profiles.
— Enhances foodborne illness surveillance systems to improve the collection, analysis, reporting, and usefulness of data on foodborne illnesses.
— Improves tracking and tracing of high-risk foods and directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services to establish a pilot project to test and evaluate new methods for rapidly and effectively tracking and tracing food in the event of a foodborne illness outbreak.
— Allows FDA to compel a mandatory recall of a contaminated food product when a company fails to voluntarily recall its tainted food. Currently the agency can only negotiate with businesses to cooperate.
— Allows FDA to suspend a food facility’s registration if there is a reasonable probability that food from the facility will cause serious adverse health consequences or death.
— Directs FDA to help food companies protect their products from intentional contamination, and calls for a national strategy to protect the U.S. food supply from terrorist threats and rapidly respond to food emergencies.
— Authorizes increased funding for FDA’s food safety activities, such as hiring personnel, and includes targeted non-compliance fees for domestic and foreign facilities.
Key differences between the House and Senate bills:
— The House version requires annual inspections of high-risk food facilities, Senate version calls for inspections once in the first five years after the law is signed and once every three years thereafter.
— The Senate bill imposes fees on importers and companies whose food is recalled — fees that did not originate with the House bill and, if considered to be taxes, may violate Constitutional provisions.
— The Senate bill lets the government order a company to cease distribution of harmful products and recall the products after an informal hearing. The House bill allows the government to order a recall before a hearing.