Food safety bill now law

President Obama signs the Food Safety Modernization Act and several other bills. Source: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza.

President Obama signs food safety bill into law

President Obama signed the Food Safety Modernization Act into law on January 4. The legislation upgrades the food safety functions of the FDA, which includes a broad mandate to prevent food from being contaminated.

“The historic legislation directs the Food and Drug Administration, working with a wide range of public and private partners, to build a new system of food safety oversight-one focused on applying, more comprehensively than ever, the best available science and good common sense to prevent the problems that can make people sick,” says Margaret A. Hamburg, FDA commissioner.

“This is a historic victory for consumers, who can now look forward to a future of safer food,” adds Caroline Smith DeWaal, Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) food safety director. “For too long, the FDA has been in reactive mode, chasing down contaminated food after people are already sick with E. coli, Salmonella or other dangerous pathogens. Now, by incorporating modern scientific and legal tools, the FDA will put the horse before the cart, requiring food manufacturers and farmers to implement plans aimed at preventing contaminated products. This is the most important food safety advance in 70 years.”

Processors of all types of food will now be required to evaluate the hazards in their operations, implement and monitor effective measures to prevent contamination, and have a plan in place to take any corrective actions that are necessary, says Hamburg. Also, FDA will have much more effective enforcement tools for ensuring those plans are adequate and properly implemented, including mandatory recall authority when needed to remove contaminated food quickly from the market.

“Soon parents should be able to shop without worrying that the spinach, tomatoes, peanut butter or eggs in their cart are going to cause illness and misery,” says Michael F. Jacobson, CSPI executive director. The new law will give consumers greater confidence that the food they purchase comes from farms and facilities that follow good food safety practices, and that FDA inspectors can help verify processors are adhering to those practices, says Jacobson.

The legislation also enhances FDA’s ability to oversee the millions of food products that are imported into the US since importers must be able to verify the safety of food from their suppliers. FDA will have the power to block foods from facilities or countries that refuse inspection, and it will work more closely with foreign governments to inspect foreign food facilities, according to Hamburg. In addition, FDA’s new import tool kit will have a huge impact on food safety given that an estimated 15 percent of the US food supply is imported, including 60 percent of fresh fruits and vegetables and 80 percent of seafood.

Food Safety Act may never become reality

Just before the end of the lame duck session last month, Congress finally approved the long-debated Food Safety Modernization Act, greatly expanding FDA’s regulatory authority, and President Obama signed it into law on January 4. But the debate may be far from settled. Key Republicans, who now control the House, say they won’t approve the money to implement the legislation. It’s estimated it will cost $1.4 billion over five years to implement the new law. The House of Representatives originally covered that cost with a $500 annual assessment on food processing plants. But the Senate dropped that provision, and it was essentially the Senate version that became law. Now, the money has to come from the appropriations process, and budget-conscious Republicans in the House are balking. Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA), the new chairman of a key appropriations subcommittee, told The Washington Post “the case for a $1.4 billion expenditure isn’t there.”

FDA launches website to help regulated industries save time, resources

The US Food and Drug Administration introduced a new Web resource called FDA Basics for Industry to help companies and others save time and resources in their interactions with the agency. The website provides basic information about the regulatory process, including information frequently requested by industry.

“Clarity and consistency are pillars of an effective regulatory system that efficiently regulates products essential to health,” says FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg. “In order to succeed, the FDA must clearly communicate standards and expectations to the industries it regulates.”

Part of the agency’s ongoing transparency initiative, the site is one of the 19 action items contained in a 46-page report titled FDA Transparency Initiative: Improving Transparency to Regulated Industry. Other action items include:

  • Setting an agency-wide expectation that e-mail questions to the FDA involving the regulatory process will, whenever possible, receive an answer within five business days, or a response stating when an answer can be expected.
  • Making agency presentations at key meetings widely available.
  • Developing and executing a project to promote uniform processes and procedures across field districts.

 “We have heard from small and large companies about the need for the FDA to more clearly communicate about its standards and expectations-both for regulated products generally and for specific applications,” says Principal Deputy Commissioner Joshua Sharfstein, MD, chairman of the agency’s Transparency Task Force.

The report also contains five draft proposals to improve FDA’s transparency to regulated industry. The draft proposals, available for public comment for 60 days, include publishing a timeline on the FDA website for high-priority guidance documents in development. The FDA would disclose dates for publication of the draft guidance, receipt of public comments and publication of the final guidance.

Commissioner Hamburg launched the FDA’s Transparency Initiative in June 2009 in response to President Obama’s commitment to openness in government and steps taken by the US Department of Health and Human Services to make transparency a priority.

No matter the size of the enterprise, most companies spend more money on voluntary redesign of labels than they do for any other reasons, including product re-launches and meeting the demands of new legislation. Source: UK DEFRA.

Label-change costs higher than thought

The results of a recent research project undertaken by Campden BRI (UK-based food research organization) for the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) shows the costs of labeling changes per stock keeping unit (SKU) were substantially greater than those that have been reported previously. The report, Developing a Framework for Assessing the Costs of Labeling Changes in the UK, states that commercial factors are the cause of most label changes, and those prompted by regulatory requirements accounted for a relatively small proportion.

Innovation is central to any successful strategy to anticipate and meet changing consumer demands. Accordingly, the research among Campden’s member food and beverage processors found that major drivers for label changes include voluntary redesign (36 percent), re-launch (21 percent), reformulation (10 percent) and new product launches (11 percent). Typically, the mean cost of a label change for re-launch was reported to be $4,550, and voluntary redesign averaged $6,850.

Furthermore, the absence of any significant generic changes in food labeling legislation during the past 25 months (the approximate average reported frequency of label change) may substantially explain why legislatively driven changes were apparently much less common.

The report covers both direct and indirect costs of labeling foods and beverages. For example, direct costs include lithography and flexography and specific language and label requirements for exports. Indirect costs include labeling lifecycle and implementation time, product testing or related investigation, marketing costs, travel and additional design charges and various supply chain costs.

Legislation sets requirements for food labels in the UK and aims to ensure food labels are an honest presentation of food. Food labels are a useful source of information, primarily to inform consumers and enable them to make a decision on which food to buy. Much of the DEFRA’s current work on labeling is to help make sure people get the information they need in an understandable form.

Defining the Food Safety Modernization Act

The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (S. 510) passed the Senate with several amendments designed to balance coverage fairly among large, small and medium-sized farms/producers/processors.


Plant security: Access granted

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Automated data collection: Rapid reporting on demand

Tablet PCs, PDAs and even Kindles are replacing clipboards for manufacturers migrating to automated data collection systems for quality control, including HACCP checkpoints.

Poultry processing: Tender birds, tougher challenges

Despite improvements in technology, poultry processors are taking it on the chin with environmental issues and the rising costs of water and energy.

Tech Update: Non-thermal processing

As consumers desire fresher-tasting food, the challenge for processors is to produce bacteria-free products while maintaining flavor, color and texture.

People, Plant and Industry News

Donald John Tyson (Don Tyson), former chairman and CEO of Tyson Foods and a leading member of Tyson’s board of directors, passed away at the age of 80 after a brief illness. Tyson was the son of John W. Tyson, founder of Tyson Foods, and father of current company chairman, John H. Tyson. Don Tyson was named president of the company in 1966 and became chairman and CEO in 1967 when his father was killed in an automobile-train accident.


Darling International Inc., a provider of rendering, recycling and recovery solutions to the food industry, completed its merger with Griffin Industries, an independent, privately owned rendering, bakery by-product and used cooking oil recycling company.


Berlin Packaging acquired Chicago-based Continental Packaging Solutions.


GE Intelligent Platforms completed the acquisition of SmartSignal, a privately held, analytics software company located in Lisle, IL.


Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc. completed the acquisition of TKA Wasseraufbereitungssysteme GmbH, a European provider of laboratory water purification systems.


JBT Corporation’s JBT FoodTech business signed a contract valued at $4 million with Malaysia-based PML Dairies.


SPX Corporation’s Flow Technology segment was awarded a contract valued at more than $15 million to custom design, manufacture and install process equipment for a new dairy products factory for PANAGRO, a prominent food company in Turkey.


Lawson Software will acquire Enwisen, a software-as-a-service provider of human resource service delivery solutions.


Toyota Industrial Equipment Manufacturing achieved 200,000 consecutive hours (representing 1,000 workdays) without a recordable accident, according to OSHA.