Keeping Foods Safe During Transport

By: Michael R. Taylor

We made great strides in 2013 toward fulfilling the mission set forth by the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, often known simply by the acronym FSMA. This law is making it possible for us to reinvent ourselves, becoming a force for the prevention of foodborne diseases rather than being mainly first-responders to food safety problems in progress.

Michael TaylorToday we are proposing a new food safety rule that would help prevent the contamination of food during transportation by establishing requirements for sanitary transportation practices.  Certain shippers, carriers, and receivers engaged in transporting food by motor or rail vehicles would be required to follow common sense sanitary practices, such as properly refrigerating food, adequately cleaning vehicles between loads, and properly protecting food during transportation.

This is an important part of the food handling process, one that can introduce contamination even after proper safeguards have been taken by the food producers and processors. Truthfully, it’s uncommon for a foodborne illness to be caused by contamination during transportation. But we have received reports of unsanitary practices, and we want to minimize this potential source of illness.

This proposed Sanitary Transportation of Human and Animal Food Rule is the seventh and final major proposed rule in FSMA’s central framework aimed at systematically building preventive measures across the food system. It builds on the six rules proposed in 2013 to keep produce safe, enact preventive controls in human and animal food-producing facilities, modernize oversight of imported foods, and guard against intentional contamination.

As this next-generation safety network takes shape, the food safety law gave us new authorities that empower us to take immediate action in the meantime to protect public health. Administrative detention enables us to keep a suspect food product out of circulation. Mandatory recall enables us to pull products off store shelves if we have reason to believe they may be unsafe to eat.  We can suspend the registration of a facility if the food it produces, packs or stores presents a serious health hazard.  By using these tools now, we’re practicing what we preach as we plan for the future.

As we’ve traveled the world to explain these new food-safety standards, I’ve developed a mantra of sorts: We’re all in this together. I mean that as much for this transportation proposed rule as I have for each of the ones we proposed last year. When these rules become final, they will be the product of an unprecedented collaboration between food regulators, the food industry, scientists, advocates and consumers.

So let’s start talking about what we need to do to transport foods safely.  As with the other proposed rules, we will work with all stakeholders – including consumers, industry and researchers – to ensure that what we’re proposing is practical and feasible while meeting our food-safety standards.  We look forward to your comments.

Michael R. Taylor is FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine

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