Raleigh, N.C. — About 400 food manufacturers, retailers, farmers, scientists and health professionals attended a food safety forum Tuesday at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds, where new federal guidelines to keep food safer were discussed.
The Food Safety Modernization Act is meant to help prevent food-related illnesses and outbreaks by allowing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to take quicker and more effective actions for companies that don't properly protect against food-poisoning risks.
There are about 48 million cases of food-borne illnesses in the United States every year, and FDA officials say simple rules can make a big difference.
"(For example), we don't want bacteria-contaminated water applied directly to the fruit people are going to eat," said Michael Taylor, FDA deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine. "We have to look out for employee hand-washing and other employee hygiene practices."
He points to a nationwide E. coli outbreak years ago as a result of contaminated spinach.
Farmers say a food recall can be devastating to their industry, even if they are not the ones at the source of the recall.
"It basically shuts you down even though your product was not involved," said Matt Solana, vice president of operations and supply chain for Jackson Farming Co.
Public comment on the Food Safety Modernization Act, signed into law in January 2011, ends in November. Guidelines are expected to be finalized within the next two years.