What is the Food Safety Modernization Act?

elliott phenium food safety mascot in chef hat with tomato and carrot, pink background

Over the last decade sentiment around food safety has moved away from that of a reactive need, to much more of a proactive necessity. Much of this is due to the global pandemic. Suddenly the source of our food, and the way in which it is served, is at the forefront of our customers’ minds. 

As the food industry continues to evolve, restaurants, stores and food distributors are dealing with a set of guidelines introduced more than a decade ago, but in a post-covid world – they are more important than ever. These guidelines are outlined in the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

As those of us working in the food service industry know, new legislation comes with a host of complexities; from questions over how to remain compliant, through to training team members on the new guidelines. In this article we take a look at the Food Safety Modernization Act and understand how it impacts our everyday working practices.

What is the background to the legislation?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about 30% of the population is at risk of being exposed to foodborne illnesses. Given that over 14% of food supplied to the United States is imported from other countries, the US government felt that new legislation was important. Therefore the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was drafted – with the sole aim of enabling the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to better protect public health by strengthening the food safety system. 

What does the Food Safety Modernization Act include?

The act was first introduced in 2011 with a clear focus to overhaul regulations regarding food production. Ultimately it meant that there was a shift away from responding to foodborne illness –  to preventing it happening in the first place. 

In the Food Safety Modernization Act, the FDA outlined areas that needed to be addressed. These included; preventative controls for human food, preventative controls for animal food, produce safety (ensuring minimum standard for growing, harvesting, packing and storing produce), foreign supplier verification, food certifications bodies, compliance and mitigation plans and sanitary food transportation.

Many minor updates to the law have been published, but the most notable is the New Era of Smarter Food Safety guidance document published by the FDA in July 2020 which outlined achievable goals to encourage traceability, improve predictive analytics, respond rapidly to outbreaks and generally create a culture of food safety. 

It’s worth noting that this document was delayed in its publication due to the outbreak of coronavirus, which was a pivotal moment in the battle against foodborne illness. 

Who is impacted by the Food Safety Modernization Act?

The Food Safety Modernization Act affects every aspect of the US food industry, from farmers to restaurants. 

It places a large onus on farmers and food processors to prevent contamination. The legislation requires food producers and importers to pay an annual $500 registration fee to the FDA (the Food & Drug Administration). 

As of January 22, 2014, there were 195,518 food facilities registered with the FDA. Under the FSMA the FDA has new authority to conduct inspections and ensure compliance.This means that any food service establishment, be it a restaurant or a street vendor, can be subject to an inspection, where a detailed look at operations will be conducted.

When did the Food Safety Modernisation Act come into existence?

In 2012, the FDA was sued by consumer groups for its failure to meet deadlines. In settling the litigation, the agency agreed to deadlines in 2015 and 2016 for certain rules.On October 22 2012 the updated food facility registration system by the US FDA became available. This update required all facilities previously registered to renew registration.

What is the New Era of Food Safety update?

A recent update to the Food Safety Modernization Act is the New Era of Smarter Food Safety guidance. The document includes four key elements; tech-enabled traceability, smarter tools, new business models and retail modernization and finally, food safety culture. The latter point is probably the most pertinent to food service companies.

The FDA outlines the need for technology which could be accessed which will involve access to data to trace the entire food chain.

Another change outlined is a requirement for food companies to take preventative steps to avoid contamination. Manufacturers are required to keep tabs on their process and identify known hazards that could potentially occur. The FDA also has the power to recall certain foods.

In terms of food safety, the legislation requires a guidance document (issued by the HACCP). If an establishment does not follow the guidance they can potentially be charged with a violation of the law.

What is section 204 of the Food Safety Modernization Act?

Section 204 of the Food Safety Modernization Act outlines additional record-keeping requirements for certain foods, including dairy, seafood and ready-to-eat products. Ultimately this is about food traceability and understanding your supply chain.

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