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What do FDA regulations mean for food safety, farmers?

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Albany/HV: What do FDA regulations mean for food safety, farmers?
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The food you eat can get contaminated in a number of ways: from livestock near fields, through the water source, or by farm workers. But it's getting safer. The Food Safety Modernization Act was signed into law in 2011. It's taken until just a couple days ago for the FDA to release the regulations for farmers and manufacturers. Our Katie Gibas tells us what these rules will mean for both farmers and consumers.

UNITED STATES -- In recent years, there have been several major food recalls, including spinach, cantaloupe, and ground turkey. Every year, one in six Americans will get sick from food-borne illnesses and 3,000 will die.

"We've seen these really nasty strains of salmonella and ecoli, and they're harder and harder to treat," said Keri White, a St. Joe's Registered Dietician.

That's why the FDA has adopted the most sweeping reform of U.S. food safety laws in more than 70 years.

"Occasionally something might slip through, but if we have this system in place now there shouldn't be any food contamination," said Dr. Donna Bacchi, the Upstate Public Health & Preventive Medicine Department Chair.

Companies that manufacture, process, pack or hold food will have to submit written plans that identify hazards, the steps that will be put in place to minimize those hazards, and how results will be monitored.

Farms that grow, harvest and pack produce would have to monitor their water source for contamination, provide bathrooms and places for field workers to wash their hands, and properly sanitize harvesting tools.

The law would apply to both domestic and foreign companies that sell food in the U.S.

"This is a huge step towards prevention of food-borne illness and those large scale recalls," said White.

Steve Ammerman, the NY Farm Bureau Public Affairs Manager, says New York farmers already have many of these policies in place to reduce contamination. And while the law specifies what must be done, how to implement the regulations is up to individuals.

"What's good about this act is that it also provides some flexibility because what may work for vegetable growers may not be the best for fruit growers or what may be best in New York might not be best in Arizona," said Steve Ammerman, the NY Farm Bureau Public Affairs Manager.

One of the big issues in terms of implementing these regulations and enforcing them is that the $1.4 billion price tag hasn't been budgeted for in Congress.

"I think it is a concern that the regulations are going to be put in place and there may not be sufficient inspectors to go out and do what needs to be done. Hopefully, Congress will recognize that in order to make sure that food is safe, we have to fund the inspectors to do it," said Bacchi.

Despite the regulations, health experts say you should always wash any produce before eating it.

At this point, the New York Farm Bureau isn't sure on how much these regulations will cost the average farm. Some estimates have said it could cost a large operation about $30,000.

Right now, the public can comment on the proposed regulations.

If you'd like more information on the Food Safety Modernization Act or how to weigh in, check out the links below.

fda.gov

foodsafety.gov

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