FDA proposes tougher measures to ensure imported food safety

The Port of Houston is one of the busiest ports in the world

By Rachel McNeill - Anchor

WASHINGTON - Every year, one in six Americans suffers from a foodborne illness leading to some 3,000 deaths.

The Food and Drug Administration made a major announcement Friday in an effort to make food coming into our country safer. This was all part of the Food Safety Modernization Act signed into law by President Obama in 2011.

Still, since that law passed, eight of the 19 multi-state foodborne illness outbreaks have been linked to imported products which shows that more still needs to be done on a global level.

The Port of Houston is one of the busiest ports in the world bringing in goods from around the world.

Fifteen percent of the food we eat, especially our fruits and vegetables, come from abroad; yet, the FDA is only able to inspect a handful of imported shipments.

The public should be reassured that we do have a very safe food supply, but officials are trying to prevent problems from happening and make sure it's as safe as possible.

Local 2 spoke with FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg from Washington D.C. She said the proposed rules will ensure foreign manufacturers have the same food safety measures in place as we do here in the United States.

Outside auditors will also be hired to inspect foreign food facilities.

"We're very excited about this opportunity to do some things that are very transformative in terms of our food safety system and we're going to move forward as quickly as we can," said Dr. Hamburg.

Jay Neal, a University of Houston assistant professor of food microbiology, said it's a step in the right direction.

"We need the producers, the farmers, the importers to also do their part," added Neal. "So it's a series of possibilities that can go wrong and it's a series of checks and balances that can help increase the food safety. It's not a silver bullet. It's not going to fix things overnight."

Experts said the final step in the food chain is in our hands.

Washing hands, washing produce, cooking and storing them appropriately can go a long way in preventing illnesses.

The implementation of these proposed regulations are still at least a couple of years away.

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