Food Safety Reform Legislation Clears HELP Committee

WASHINGTON—Americans may soon be able to enjoy their peanuts, peppers, spinach and cookie dough with greater confidence that those foods are safe to eat if the full Senate passes the food safety legislation that cleared a key committee today. The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (S. 510), offered by Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Tom Harkin (D-IA), was passed unanimously in the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee.

Food safety advocates are calling on the full body to pass the bill before the end of the year. Similar legislation passed the House in July.

"Americans expect the businesses that grow, fish, process and handle our food are following the best practices to ensure it is safe," said CSPI food safety director Caroline Smith DeWaal. "This bill gives FDA needed new authorities to manage food safety from farm to table, through improved standards and more frequent inspections."

The bill calls on food processors to register with the government periodically, implement food safety plans, meet FDA performance standards, and verify that the food they import complies with U.S. law. The House-passed bill also requires more frequent risk-based inspections of food processing facilities and microbial testing for dangerous pathogens like Salmonella or E. coli O157:H7. Under the current system, food manufacturing facilities might only receive visits from an FDA inspector once every five or 10 years. Both bills also give the FDA authority to issue mandatory recalls of contaminated foods.

"Senator Durbin and Senator Harkin have been championing food safety for years, and they deserve enormous credit for crafting a bill with such broad bipartisan support," said DeWaal. "We’re also grateful for the cosponsorship of Ranking Member Mike Enzi and Senators Judd Gregg and Richard Burr and the rest of the Republicans who joined the Democrats in advancing this legislation."

The bill is widely supported by a diverse coalition of consumer and health groups, including the American Public Health Association, Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, Safe Tables Our Priority, the Pew Charitable Trusts, and Trust for America's Health. The Make Our Food Safe coalition will continue to seek some strengthening amendments to the legislation, but urge rapid passage in order to restore consumer confidence, which has been shaken by numerous outbreaks of food-borne illness.