Let’s Keep Talking—and Listening—About Food Safety

By: Michael R. Taylor, J.D.

Everyone has a stake in the rules that FDA is proposing to strengthen the food safety net in this country.

Michael R. Taylor, J.D.We have reached out far and wide to engage in conversations about the first two proposed rules mandated by the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act. The produce safety rule would set standards for production and harvesting of fruits and vegetables. The preventive controls rule for human food would set safety requirements for food facilities.

Since these rules were proposed in January 2013 and published in the Federal Register for public comment, my colleagues and I have been engaged in an ongoing dialogue with a range of consumers, farmers, manufacturers and others who are affected by the proposals.  When we say that we want the public to comment, we mean it. We need that feedback to ensure that what we plan to do is what we should do. In fact, we have extended the comment periods for both proposed rules for another 120 days.

I recently met with tree fruit farmers from Washington State who wanted to talk about how they would be affected by proposed standards for irrigation water. I’ve attended other small-group meetings with a cross-section of people and organizations concerned about what these rules will mean to them. And our FSMA implementation team has been providing overviews of the proposed rules and answering stakeholder questions every day since the rules were first published.

On a larger scale, there have been three public meetings, in Washington, D.C., Chicago and Portland,OR. At each meeting, the crowd was large, diverse, and intensely interested, asking detailed questions about the basis for certain provisions and how they would work in specific cases. We learned a lot that will help us address these questions and be sure that the final rules are both effective for food safety and workable across the great diversity of the food industry. 

We also learned that a broad cross-section of our industry and consumer stakeholders are eager to push forward and work with us to successfully complete this crucial rule-writing step in FSMA implementation.   

None more so than 15-year-old Rylee Gustafson, who nearly died from eating contaminated spinach six years ago. She spoke in Portland:

“When people ask me why I am passionate about food safety, the answer is simple:  I don’t want anyone to have to go through what I did—or worse, die because of something they ate. I have been able to take my experience and make a positive impact by sharing my story. But my job as a food safety advocate is far from over. Being here today—to support the FDA in the release of the proposed produce safety rule and to encourage the agency to finalize it quickly with the hope that fewer people, young and old, are forced to suffer because of foodborne illness—is just the next chapter in my story.”

Rylee reminds us why we do this work and why we are so committed to helping write that next chapter.

There are three more FSMA-mandated proposals on the horizon that form the basic framework for a modern, prevention-based food safety system. Two are designed to keep imported foods safe from contamination and the third is to protect animal food. Then, as now, we will want your opinion of what we’re planning. We want to engage you as partners in making these reforms a reality.

Michael R. Taylor, J.D., is Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine

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