Category Archives: food safety

FDA issues food safety rules for farmers under Food Safety Modernization Act

lettuceWe were all enthusiastic about the passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act five years ago. It was the most sweeping reform to food safety laws in the U.S. in more than 70 years. The FMSA shifts the focus of federal regulators from responding to food contamination to preventing food contamination. We’ve been reactive instead of proactive when it comes to food safety for far too many decades. While several new rules were implemented after the act’s passage in 2011, the majority of requirements will be implemented over time. was pleased to learn today that the FDA has acted to issue one of the most significant aspects of the FSMA.

It took much longer than expected, but the Food and Drug Administration has now released the centerpiece — or at least, the most contested — part of that overhaul. These are rules that cover farmers who grow fresh produce, as well as food importers.

“This is a giant step forward,” said Michael Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods.
Earlier drafts of the regulations on vegetable farming generated howls of protest. The rules are intended to prevent disease-causing bacteria from contaminating vegetables that people often eat raw.

But small farmers, in particular, complained that some requirements, such as those calling for regular testing of irrigation water, were onerous and costly. Organic farmers protested against restrictions on the use of manure for fertilizer.

The final regulations contain compromises on some of those requirements. The FDA is conducting more research on the risks of using fresh manure, but in the meantime, it “does not object” to farmers simply following rules that already govern the use of manure in organic farming.

New regulations on food importers, meanwhile, require them to have programs in place to verify that their foreign suppliers are taking just as many safety precautions as farmers in the U.S. And the FDA will check up, sending safety inspectors around the world to visit food suppliers.

Both rules will start to go into effect in two years. Enforcing the new rules will require a boost in the FDA’s budget, and Congress will have to approve it. “It will not succeed without resources,” said the FDA’s Taylor.

While there do seem to be some loose ends, we are headed in the right direction. Foodborne illnesses are far too common and costly to the consumers they affect as well as the food manufacturers who recall the tainted food and pay legal expenses associated with those illnesses.

The story behind product recalls and restaurant closings: food poisoning is more common than you think has always made it a point to call attention to food recalls and restaurant closings on our website. We think it’s important to keep as many people informed of foodborne illnesses as possible because they do affect so many people. New food recalls happen every single day of the year and most of them aren’t publicized, so you may not know that a product that’s sitting in your pantry has been recalled to do foodborne pathogens or cross contamination from allergens. You need to know exactly what’s in your food – and sometimes that includes things that aren’t very pleasant and can, in fact, cause immediate and serious harm.

The latest scare comes from Oregon and Washington state, where Chipotle closed 43 restaurants after more than 35 people fell ill with E. coli. Other outbreaks in recent years involved cantaloupes, peanuts and cookie dough.Here’s the story behind product recalls and restaurant closings:  food poisoning is more common than you think.  Some 3,000 Americans die every year from food poisoning, and 128,000 are hospitalized.

It’s not as if Congress has done nothing. In 2011 it passed the Food Safety Modernization Act, the biggest change in industry monitoring since the 1930s. The law had broad support from both parties as well as consumer groups and Big Agriculture.

The act makes a number of improvements to the food-safety system. The Food and Drug Administration is empowered to order recalls of contaminated food products — previously, it could only request them — and put in place tougher rules on processing fruits and vegetables. Companies are required to create written safety plans and keep records of safety issues, which the agency has the right to see. The FDA will also do more frequent inspections — once every three years instead of every decade for high-risk facilities — and has greater authority over imported food, which is required to meet many of the same safety standards as domestic food.

The law falls short in some places: Most important, it does too little to address a lax program of domestic self-regulation, especially when it comes to outside safety inspectors, whose independence has been questioned. The agency has proposed a set of rules for improving matters, including a set of model accreditation standards for safety auditors, but they would simply be guidelines.

Yet any discussion of benefits and drawbacks would be premature, since few of the law’s core provisions have taken effect. The FDA only last month finalized its preventive-control rules, and Congress has doled out less than half the $580 million that the Congressional Budget Office says has been needed to implement the law. It is unlikely to open its wallet wider. The process has become bogged down by industry objections to compliance costs and a proposed $225 million in other fees.

Congress, agricultural producers and food retailers need to find a compromise out of the fiscal logjam. One potentially helpful suggestion came from President Barack Obama earlier this year, when he proposed placing all food-safety responsibilities in one agency inside the Department of Health and Human Services, combining the efforts of the FDA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (which oversees meat and poultry) and a handful of other government offices. This could well increase efficiency and cut down on regulatory overlap, meaning lower costs to industry. will continue to provide news to our community concerning food recalls and restaurant closings. It’s important that we all stay aware so that we can avoid serious illness. And food poisoning IS serious illness – even though we don’t tend to think of it that way. With over 100,000 hospitalizations every year and numerous fatalities, food poisoning isn’t something about which any of us can afford to live in the dark. While we have plenty of systems in place to help us avoid these situations in the first place, none of those has yet been perfect. In the end, it’s still up to us to find out as much as we can about problems as they arise in order to keep ourselves healthy and well.

Because mechanically separated chicken isn’t bad enough …

That pink slime in the photo here … that’s mechanically separated chicken. We know, we know … that’s not what you think of when you hear that term. It  sounds like the actual meat is being separated into pieces by a machine.

Here’s the actual definition:

Mechanically separated meat (MSM), mechanically recovered/reclaimed meat (MRM), or mechanically deboned meat (MDM) is a paste-like meat product produced by forcing beef,pork, turkey or chicken, under high pressure through a sieve or similar device to separate the bone from the edible meat tissue. The process entails pureeing or grinding the carcass left after the manual removal of meat from the bones and then forcing the slurry through a sieve under pressure. This puree included bone, bone marrow, skin, nerves, blood vessels in addition to the scraps of meat remaining on the bones. The resulting product is a blend of muscle (meat) and other tissues not generally considered meat.

While manufacturers claim that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with mechanically separated meat, it’s not exactly appetizing. is pretty positive that no one actually wants to consume ANYTHING that contains bone, marrow, skin, nerves and blood vessels. Since the “substance” made the news a few years back and consumers had a fairly unanimous “ewww” reaction, certain manufacturers have refrained from using it. But it’s certainly still out there in a variety of products. And some of those products are produced for institutional use.

Tyson Foods is recalling 33,840 pounds of mechanically separated chicken products that may be contaminated with Salmonella Heidelberg, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

The products are being recalled after being connected to Salmonella illnesses at a Tennessee correctional facility where the chicken was served. Seven patients have been identified with Salmonella infection, including two who have required hospitalization.

The recalled products were only shipped “for institutional use” nationwide and are not available for consumers to purchase at retail outlets.

Maybe that should make us feel better??? Consider that foods meant for institutional use can make their way into some schools, universities, hospitals, churches, government facilities and military bases — in addition to the prison that has already been affected. As disturbing as mechanically separated chicken may be, mechanically separated chicken infected with salmonella is certainly more disturbing. Hopefully Tyson’s recall has this incident completely covered.

Farmers weigh in on new food safety rules … express concerns about the regulatory process

Foodborne illnesses are always a concern in the U.S. food supply. E. coli and salmonella are among the outbreaks we’ve become fairly used to hearing about in the news. follows food recalls on our website to keep our community notified of issues with specific products that often include foodborne illnesses. In January of 2011 the firm major reform of food safety laws in seven decades was enacted. The Food Safety Modernization Act was passed with the purpose of making food safer and reducing foodborne illness. It’s been two years and the FDA has put forward a draft for the new rules which has been open for public comment.

According to the Farm Bureau, however, the new regulations may just be too broad to do this job the way it needs to be done. Farmers have very specific concerns with the new regulations and believe that the FDA seems to be unwilling to focus specifically on the commodities that are most often associated with foodborne illness.

“We urge the FDA to reconsider standards that take into account the relative risks and comparative benefits associated with individual commodities. The FDA should initially propose regulations for only those commodities with a history of microbial contamination,” the Farm Bureau wrote in lengthy comments recently submitted to the FDA.

Only once those regulations are successfully put in place and enforced, should the FDA even consider expanding regulations to cover other commodities.

“We know that there have been problems with E. coli in leafy greens or with salmonella in tomatoes, for example, and the industry has voluntarily taken the initiative to curb some of those problems,” said Kelli Ludlum, American Farm Bureau Federation food safety specialist. “That’s where it really makes sense for FDA to focus their efforts. Unfortunately, they’ve chosen to go significantly broader than that and regulate a whole scope of commodities that have never had foodborne illnesses, and, because of the way they’re grown and consumed, are very unlikely to have those issues.”

Including low- and no-contamination risk commodities is a waste of both growers’ and the governments’ time and money.

“Instead of shrinking the size of the haystack in which they’re looking for that public health threat needle, by choosing to regulate all produce, they’re only making that haystack bigger, which neither farmers nor government inspectors and regulators have the resources for,” Ludlum said.

Specifically, because considerable changes to the draft rules are expected to be made as a result of public comments, the Farm Bureau believes a second draft of the proposed rule should be put out in order to work through the regulatory process adequately. Congressional lawmakers agree and are also calling for another round of comments. 30 senators and 45 House members said they were concerned about the impact of proposed rules on farmers and businesses that an additional comment period could help alleviate.

“We encourage the FDA to release a second draft of the combined produce safety, preventive controls for human food and animal feed, foreign supplier verification program and third-party audit certification rules to allow for sufficient review as to how all the rules are intended to work together,” Farm Bureau wrote.

Farmers are clearly concerned by the possibility of over-regulation that may not be necessary to ensure the safety of the food supply. While new regulation has clearly been needed and food safety is of the utmost importance to all Americans, the Farm Bureau’s concerns certainly pose a significant question regarding the FDA’s overarching approach to the issue. Time and money are important resources for both the government and America’s farmers. We’d be happy to see a second round of public comments to help the FDA arrive at a sensible set of much needed food safety rules that work for the government, the growers and consumers.

The FDA can’t seem to meet its schedule for modifying U.S. Food Safety Regulations has some interesting news to report tonight coming out of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Back in January of 2011 a new law was signed requiring the F.D.A. to modernize food safety regulations. The F.D.A. has stated that the scope of the project is tremendous and will require additional time to complete. A lawsuit has been filed against them because of their failure to meet the deadlines given and now the Agency is fighting to have that lawsuit dismissed.

Here at, we do feel that the U.S. can be behind other nations in our determinations regarding certain ingredients and their overall safety for the population. There are many food additives that have been banned in other countries that are still permitted in the U.S. food supply. There are many other ingredients that haven’t been studied to the degree required to deem them safe and yet the F.D.A. has allowed their use. So we can’t claim to be completely surprised by this latest news.

The lawsuit was actually filed back in August by the Center for Food Safety and the Center for Environmental Health. The Food Safety Modernization Act, which was passed into law at the beginning of 2011 was designed to help prevent food-borne illnesses that result in thousands of deaths each year. The two non-profit groups are accusing the F.D.A. of repeatedly missing hundreds of mandatory deadlines for issuing the regulations required by this law. They have asked the court to order the Agency to comply.

The F.D.A.’s efforts to have the lawsuit dismissed include a statement that their decisions regarding the law’s enforcement aren’t subject to judicial review. We don’t necessarily understand that as it seems to infer that the F.D.A. can’t be taken to court. They’ve also stated that they haven’t “unreasonably delayed” the dissemination of regulations. While the Agency isn’t arguing the fact that they have missed deadlines, they are trying to say that the deadlines aren’t really that important.

Sadly there are thousands of Americans who would have a different opinion. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 3,000 people die from food-borne illnesses each year and another 48 million (fully one in six citizens) get sick from food contamination.

The Food Safety Modernization Act is the first overhaul of food safety laws in over 70 years in the U.S. The new regulations are designed to establish standards for the sources of contamination of fresh fruits and vegetables. It would also hold importers responsible for the safety of their own products. Food companies would also be required to identify possible causes of contamination and take action to prevent them. While does realize that this is a tremendous undertaking, we also understand that it’s a very necessary step for the United States to take to protect our own consumers from a variety of dangers related to foods. We’ll keep an eye on this developing story and keep you updated. In the meanwhile, remember you can always check out to find out about the latest food recalls and their reasons.

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New York’s proposed ban on super-sized sugary beverages …the right thing to do or government interference? Thoughts from our community, please

Food Facts wants our community to weigh in on this very controversial piece of news. Last month, Michael Bloomberg, New York City’s mayor proposed a ban on the sale of large sized sodas and other sugary drinks. The ban would affect restaurant establishments, movie theaters and street food sellers. Mayor Bloomberg is proposing this ban in order to curb the rising problem of obesity in New York City.

The ban would apply to drinks that are larger than 16 fluid ounces and range from sodas to energy drinks to sweetened iced teas which would be prohibited from sale in delis, fast-food outlets, sporting venues and even hot-dog and sandwich carts which are common on most New York City street corners. If the proposal is approved, it could go into effect in March of 2013. In New York City, more than half of adults are obese or overweight. And about one-third of New Yorkers drink more than one sugary drink per day. This information comes from the New York City health commissioner. The proposed ban would not apply to drinks with fewer than 30 calories per 8-ounce serving, so unsweetened iced teas, diet sodas and flavored or vitamin waters with no calories would not be affected.

According to the mayor, the only thing the ban actually would do is make it less convenient to consume more than 16 ounces of a chosen sugary beverage. After all, a consumer would be free to buy a second one. Because the city does have jurisdiction over local eating establishments they are confident they have the authority to restrict the sales of these beverages.

Since the proposal, other mayors around the country are considering similar actions. Many in the health and nutrition community are supportive of the measure. Many in the New York City community and the government are not.

Here, in our Food Facts community, many are aware of the unhealthy and possibly downright harmful ingredients in soda. But, we’re also pretty aware that those statements don’t just involve sugary sodas and pretty much extend to diet versions, as well. You can check out two examples right here:

We’d like our Food Facts friends to weigh in on this issue. Let us know:

1) Is the ban, and others like it that will undoubtedly follow, an infringement on our basic rights? If the New York City government can ban large sized sugary beverages, what other nutrition-based decisions can they go on to force on adult residents?

2) Is the ban a viable way to attempt to control a growing obesity problem in New York and other cities like it?

3) Does the ban actually not go far enough? If we know that the ingredients in soda are actually harmful to our health and that’s true for both diet and sugar-laden beverages, why aren’t governments trying to control the intake of all kinds of drinks? Aspartame is just as controversial as high-fructose corn syrup and phosphoric acid and potassium benzoate certainly don’t qualify as additives we don’t need to worry about.

It’s a fascinating conversation and one that can be looked at from many points of view. As a member of the Food Facts community, we’d like to hear your stance and reasoning. As educated consumers, your opinions are valuable, not only to us, but to all communities and cities considering ways and means to curtail the growing problems of obesity and poor nutrition becoming more and more prevalent in our country every day.

FDA Offers Grilling Tips


Photo from U.S. FDA would like to discuss grilling season.

With grilling season just around the corner, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last month released a pamphlet with grilling tips for the safe preparation of foods.

E-coli and salmonella are two of the most well-known and common food-borne illnesses in existent, and both illnesses are often contracted through the incorrect preparation of foods. This is especially common in the summer, when grilling is a common means of cooking and the heat outside is high, resulting in a higher chance of bacteria growing within food.

So how can you keep you and your family safe during this fun, but risky, time?

It all begins before you even begin cooking, with proper cleanup and preparation of your work area. Cleaning your food items is also a must, specifically fresh fruits and vegetables.

The means in which you transport your food is also important, and transporting foods in an organized manner could be beneficial. Keeping your cold foods cold, specifically in a cooler with the temperature at 40°F or below, is necessary for preventing bacteria growth. Keep the coolers closed, and don’t cross-contaminate foods such as poultry, seafood and raw meat.

What about the actual grilling process, though? How do you keep your foods safe?

When grilling, it is important to marinate your food safely – keep it in the refrigerator, rather than the counters or outside. Keep already grilled food hot until it is served. Also, and this is very important – cook food thoroughly. To find out proper cooking temperatures, please refer to the FDA link at the bottom of this blog. Finally, when cooking, keep utensils separate to prevent cross-contamination. It might be a good idea to wash utensils after each use to be extra safe.

So, folks, there you have it. Separation, refrigeration, and proper cooking temperatures are the basics.

With that said, we’re wishing you a happy and healthy grilling season from!


All the Cows Go Mad — The Latest on Mad Cow Disease


Photo from would like to address the news of confirmed “mad cow disease” case in California.

Think back to a little less than a decade ago, when “mad cow disease” was first mentioned in the United States. The widespread panic that ensued following a presumptive diagnosis of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known as “mad cow disease,” in Washington took over news headlines for weeks.

In 2006, the phrase “mad cow disease” came up again, when a cow in Alabama was confirmed to have BSE.

And then today, news broke that South Korea had suspended the sale of beef from the US following the confirmation of BSE in a dairy cow in California.

Some people may fail to remember why the panic ensued back in 2003 and 2004 – just that the term “mad cow disease” resulted in fear across the country. But the fear is valid, given the deaths of 150 in the 1980s and 1990s in Britain that were cause by BSE.

What is BSE and why should we fear it? What does it do?

BSE is a fatal neurological disease in cattle, and is related to something called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob in humans, which is an incurable disease that results in the decrease of mental function and movement, and eventually, possibly death. Humans can contract the disease following the consumption of beef from an infected cow.

Should people be concerned? According to public health officials, people in the United States have a very low risk of consuming beef from an infected cow or contracting the illness, and no extra precautions need to be taken.

Wishing you the best from all of us here at!

Mutated Gulf Seafood — Are Consumers Safe?

Photo from Donald Waters/AP Photo will be exploring the effects on seafood following disasters such as oil spills today.


Back in 2010, theGulf of Mexicosaw an oil spill unlike any seen in decades. For months, the news covered the BP oil spill, examining the environmental effects of the spill that flowed for months following an explosion of an oil rig.


Roughly two years later, the effects on the fish and seafood in the waters are finally being seen, with mutated fish and eyeless shrimp being discovered in the very same waters the oil streamed into.


For obvious reasons, this is cause for concern among consumers. The fact that mutated and sick fish reside in those waters begs the question to be asked: are consumers at risk if they purchase seafood that came from the Gulf?


Scientists can’t point the finger to the oil spill as the definite cause of the deformities. However, given the history, many are convinced that the fish and seafood are showing illness and mutations as a result of the spill.


Rest assured, according to the Food and Drug Administration – the deformities presented in the seafood and fish do not pose any risk to the consumers as sick fish are not permitted to be sold, according to FDA regulations. Furthermore, the FDA has said that numerous testing has been performed and is continuing to be performed even today to be sure.


If that wasn’t enough to try and alleviate consumers concerns, the FDA also makes a point of explaining the amount of seafood that would need to be consumed to even reach the level of concern the FDA has regarding the issue, and that amount is even more than eating 9 pounds of shrimp per day for 5 years.


So is there cause for concern? As mentioned in previous blog postings, that is all up to the individual consumer and their trust in the government. But regardless of the concern level of Gulf seafood currently, a person should ALWAYS pay attention to seafood safety.


That being said, would like to wish you and yours and a happy and healthy weekend!

Dioxins — Any “eggscape” from them?


Picture credit to would like to take some time to look at dioxins.


Recently, it has been revealed that in Germany, the highly poisonous chemical was found in eggs from a couple of farms in levels that was above the permissible level set.


Needless to say, the farms found with those eggs have been sealed off and are not permitted to sell more eggs. That doesn’t mean that eggs containing dioxins haven’t been sold already, though.


According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency webpage, dioxins are a “group of toxic chemical compounds that share certain chemical structures and biological characteristics.” [1] They can be released into the environment in many different ways, including forest fires and certain industrial activities.


While many people fail to realize it, most every living creature has been exposed to dioxins in some way, shape or form over time. Dioxins are not reported to be harmful at small levels, but long-term exposure or high levels could result in numerous adverse health effects, including but not limited to cancer. Exposure to high levels of dioxins have also reportedly led to reproductive and developmental problems, according to studies, and an increased risk of health problems such as heart disease and diabetes. While there are no known health effects on those who have consumed dioxins in small doses, more research does need to be done on those who are exposed to low levels of it over long periods of time, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.


This isn’t the first time the issue of dioxins has been brought up with regards to Germany. Back in January of 2011, the European Union issued a health alert when officials discovered that animal feed had been tainted with dioxins, which was in turn fed to animals like hens and pigs and contaminating eggs, poultry and pork. Following that health alert, new measures were implemented to keep dioxin ingredients out of animal feed. Because of those new measures, and tests performed, officials do not believe the cause of this exposure was due to animal feed, and are still looking into the cause of the exposure.


Is there cause for concern? In Germany, there is reportedly no danger to the public. But it certainly makes everyone wonder what chemicals might be in their foods.


According to the United States Food and Drug Administration, there are always measures being taken to lower dioxin levels in foods. Furthermore, there are regulations in place regarding dioxin emissions when it comes to industrial sources. And over time, reduced dioxin emissions will result in reduced levels of dioxins in foods. That being said, cause for concern more or less rests on your faith in the government and their efforts. would like to extend our best wishes!


[1] Dioxin. Environmental Assessment. United States Environmental Protection Agency. <>