In October 2018, the Center for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration announced an outbreak of E. coli traced to the consumption of romaine lettuce. The outbreak continued through December. In total, the Center for Disease Control has traced fifty two cases to the produce across fifteen states, leading to nineteen people being hospitalized.
Food safety issues remain a major risk for shippers, carriers, and receivers involved in the transportation of food within the United States. The Food and Drug Administration, acting under the Food Safety Modernization Act, has passed a number of regulations aimed at reimagining the ways companies respond to the threat of food-borne illness or adulteration. The government is trying to move towards a more preventive approach towards food safety, as opposed to a reactive one in which it merely responds and investigates concerns in the wake of outbreaks.
It is a long spoken truism that industry moves faster than government attempts to regulate it. Congress passed the Food Safety Modernization Act in December 2010 and the President signed it into law in January 2011. Yet it took the FDA more than six years to implement seven new regulations aimed at executing the Food Safety Modernization Act, and many of those regulations have not come into full force yet. At the same time, a major new issue with food safety in this country has arisen.
Whole Foods decided in January 2017 to shut down three East Coast ready to eat food manufacturing plants in the wake of Food and Drug Administration warnings about unsanitary kitchens and the finding of listeria bacteria inside one of the plants in February 2016. The shutdown results from one more event in an increasingly long line of recent agency actions that respond aggressively to outbreaks of foodborne illnesses. The Food and Drug Administration has shown itself willing to issue large fines, shut down unsanitary facilities, and even bring criminal charges against food producers who fail to take food safety seriously.
More than a year ago now, the Food and Drug Administration released its final rule on Produce Safety (formally known as “Standards for the Growing, Harvesting, Packing and Holding of Produce for Human Consumption”). The rule resulted from Congress’ passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) at the end of 2010 and constituted part of a major push to upgrade food safety procedures in the United States. However, a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) calls into question the efficiency and efficacy of the FDA’s attempts to regulate this area.
The Food and Drug Administration’s new rule on Sanitary Transportation of Human and Animal Food starts to take effect in mere months for those carriers that do not qualify as small businesses. The rule defines small businesses for motor carriers as those carriers with less than $27.5 million in annual receipts.