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Food safety struggles continue despite new regs

Each year, one out of every six Americans gets sick from food-borne illnesses. About 128,000 will be hospitalized, and about 3,000 die, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Food Safety Modernization Act was signed in 2011 to try to lower these numbers, and 2016 marked the first year that all of the rules and regulations were finalized. However, recalls and illnesses continue to plague groceries, restaurants and home kitchens.The FSMA was the first major federal overhaul of food safety since the law that created the Food and Drug Administration in 1938. Congress directed federal agencies to create most of the specific rules and regulations. The FDA, CDC and other agencies spent five years working with the public to iron out the details and create the policies that must be followed at each step of the chain, from farm to plate.ìThe rules will work in concert with other components of the FSMA by preventing food safety problems before they occur,î said Dr. Stephen Ostroff, a deputy commissioner at the FDA. The FDA created rules for preventive controls for human and animal food, produce safety, transportation sanitation and preventing what the agency calls ìintentional adulterationî ó the threat that criminals and terrorists could find weaknesses in the current food safety system to cause massive public harm.The FDA is only one part of the food safety system in the United States. More than 3,000 state and local agencies have food safety responsibilities for retail food, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Food service companies in Falcon are monitored by the Colorado Department of Health and Environment and El Paso County Public Health.Both agencies worked on the November 2016 hepatitis A contamination of frozen strawberries that affected several states, including three El Paso County restaurants. About 120 food-producing companies had recalls in 2015, according to Stericycle Expert Solutions. ìThird quarter set another record for recall activity, due in large part to advancements in contamination testing,î said Ryan Gooley of Stericycle. ìAt the same time, regulators are becoming increasingly vigilant and provisions of the FSMA are being implemented.îRecalls, testing and paperwork needed to comply with the FSMA will add up to about $2.2 billion in costs for the FDA itself, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Food producers and processors will spend about another $1 billion per year in compliance costs, according to the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association, with much of that from smaller producers who don’t have some of the procedures already in place at larger facilities.Some of the interpretations on final rules are still being ironed out at the federal level. Some of those may have significant impacts on the local food movement in places like El Paso County. The use of certain kinds of soil amendments, agricultural water quality, presence of domestic or wild animals near produce fields will be applied to farms large and small between 2017 and 2020, based on total annual sales, according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office report in November 2016 to the congressional committees overseeing the rule-making process.Farms that sell more than $25,000 of produce will be partially covered by the ìProduce Ruleî and will have to meet the regulatory requirements no later than 2020, depending on the size of the farm. The ìTester-Hagan Amendments,î named after senators Jon Tester (D-MT) and Kay Hagen (D-NC), added exemptions for farms with less than $500,000 in sales that primarily sell to individuals and retail food establishments within 275 miles of the farm.Once food gets to a home kitchen, it is up to the family to maintain safe food handling practices. About 90 percent of salmonella infections happen because of improper food handling in home kitchens, according to a study by the National Institute for Health. ìAbout 80 percent of suspect hamburgers in e-coli outbreaks in the United States were prepared and eaten at home,î said Dr. Elizabeth Scott in the study.Hosts and guests at home-based parties like Super Bowl can stay safe by following certain basic food safety principles, which can make or break food safety issues regardless of legislation on how food is treated before it reaches the home.Cold foods need to stay cold, and hot foods need to stay hot ó all the way from preparation to eating. ìA temperature of 41 degrees or less is important because it slows the growth of bacteria, and the less likely you will get sick,î according to El Paso County Public Health in its ìHome Kitchen Self Inspectionî checklist available on their website.If perishable food is kept at room temperature for two hours, it should be thrown out. Since half-time of the Super Bowl may be more than two hours from the time the host cooks the food, the USDA recommends reheating cooked food to at least 165 degrees, then using heated chafing dishes, warming trays or slow cookers to keep hot food above 140 degrees while being served.More food safety tips and recall notices can be found at

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