US FDA releases key rules guiding farm produce, imported food safety

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has released new safety standards for imported food and farm produce as part of it efforts to curb food borne diseases and making importers more accountable for verifying food brought into the country meets the safety requirements.

The FDA, which announced the Foreign Supplier Verification Program last week, estimated that imported food made up for about 19 percent of the U.S. food supply, mostly fresh vegetables and fruits.

“The final rule ensures that importers conduct verification activities (such as audits of a supplier’s facility, sampling and testing of food, or a review of the supplier’s relevant food safety records) based on risks linked to the imported food and the performance of the foreign supplier,” it said in a statement.

Another rule — the Accredited Third-Party Certification – set in place a programme for the accreditation of third-party certification bodies, also called auditors, to conduct food safety audits of foreign food facilities.

The FDA also finalized a rule on how produce should be grown, harvested, packed and held and imported. The rule does not apply to produce that is used for personal or on-farm consumption and farms that have sold less than 25,000 U.S. dollars in produce during the previous three years.

The standards in the Produce Safety rule included requirements for water quality, employee health and hygiene, biological soil amendments of animal origin such as compost and manure, and equipment, tools, and buildings, media reports said.

The new rules come under government’s 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act, which directed the FDA and food producers to prevent problems across the entire food system, rather than waiting to act until illness occurs.

According to recent data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 48 million people, or one in six Americans, get sick each year from foodborne diseases. That leads to about 128,000 hospitalization and 3,000 deaths each year.

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