Congress is taking its usual summer recess and there is precious little real legislative time left before they leave town for good to campaign to get their jobs back.   Nevertheless, it is not unusual to have the concepts and support for legislation to come together now and become spring-loaded for advancing through the new Congress that will convene in January.

That might be what we are looking at in a food safety bill introduced last week by powerful farm state Senator Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.  The bill is cosponsored by Dick Durbin (D-IL), Judd Gregg (R-NH), Richard Burr (R-NC), Chris Dodd (D-CT) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN).  The bipartisan group put out a joint press release.

“This country doesn’t need any more spectacles like the slow unfolding of FDA’s investigation of the recent Salmonella outbreak. The present system is not just a public health concern, but an issue for producers feeling the economic impact of food safety scares,” said Harkin. “This food safety bill gives FDA the authority it needs to prevent and respond to food safety problems, from requiring recalls, to setting food safety standards for fresh produce, to enhancing trace-back and surveillance of food-borne illness. It’s a win-win for producers and consumers.”

“When Americans go to the grocery store, the last thing on their mind should be the safety of the foods they are bringing home to serve their families,” Gregg stated. “The recent salmonella outbreak highlights the current vulnerability of our food supply and the need to modernize our food safety laws. We cannot afford to wait until the next food-borne illness outbreak or an intentional attack on our food supply occurs for Congress to act on this bipartisan legislation to ensure the safety of our food and restore confidence in the quality of these products for American families.”

Specifically, the bill:

Strengthens Food-borne Illness Prevention:

Hazard Analysis – Domestic food facilities are required to evaluate potential food safety hazards (such as pesticides, toxins, etc.) and implement preventive controls to mitigate the identified risk and prevent adulteration.

Produce Standards – FDA is given the authority to set commodity-specific standards to improve the safety of fresh produce.

Imports – Certification from exporting countries that high-risk food meets U.S. food safety standards. Importers are required to verify the safety of imported food. FDA is given the power to qualify importers for expedited review and importation of food if importers go above and beyond basic standards to ensure the safety of imported food.

Third-Party Inspection and Labs – FDA is given the authority to establish an accreditation system to enable qualified third parties to certify domestic and foreign food facilities’ compliance with U.S. food safety standards. FDA is empowered to recognize laboratory accreditation bodies to ensure U.S. food testing labs meet high quality standards.

Improves Food-borne Illness Detection and Response:

Surveillance – Enhances food-borne illness surveillance systems to improve the collection, analysis, reporting, and usefulness of data on food-borne illnesses.

Traceability – Requires the Secretary to establish a pilot project to test and evaluate new methods for rapidly and effectively tracking and tracing-back fruits and vegetables in the event of a food-borne illness outbreak. Also provides for expanded access to records in the event of an outbreak.

Mandatory Recall – Gives FDA the authority to order a mandatory recall of a food product when a company fails to voluntarily recall the product upon FDA’s request.

Suspension of Registration – Empowers FDA to suspend a food facility’s registration if there is a reasonable probability that food from the facility will cause serious adverse health consequences or death.

Enhances U.S. Food Defense Capabilities:

Directs FDA to promulgate regulations to assist food companies in protecting their products from intentional contamination, and calls for a national strategy to protect our food supply from terrorist threats and rapidly respond to food emergencies.

Increases FDA Resources:

Increases funding for FDA’s food safety activities. A portion of the additional funding proposed in the bill will come from targeted fees for domestic and foreign facilities.