After a summer filled with food poisoning, the Food and Drug Administration is tightening up its safety requirements.
On Thursday, the agency announced that it had finalized new rules dedicated to preventing foodborne illnesses, saying the regulations are a first step toward creating a "nationally integrated food safety system."
The rules require the development of explicit food safety plans, holding food companies accountable for monitoring and preventing hazards in their facilities. Most foodborne disease outbreaks, which affect 48 million people in the U.S. every year, are preventable if companies throughout the supply chain are proactive in their approach to food safety, says the FDA.
"We’ve been working with states, food companies, farmers and consumers to create smart, practical and meaningful rules," Michael R. Taylor, the FDA's deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, said in a statement. "And we have made a firm commitment to provide guidance, technical assistance and training to advance a food safety culture that puts prevention first."
The new rules, which have been in the works for years, come at a time when two salmonella outbreaks are hitting the U.S. The largest of these has reached 30 states, according to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention. So far, 341 people have been infected and two have died. The outbreak has been traced back to cucumbers imported from Mexico and distributed by Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce. The company voluntarily recalled all cucumbers that may have been contaminated last week.
A smaller salmonella outbreak recently hit Minnesota, where at least 45 people have been sickened, reports the Star Tribune. According to the Tribune, the outbreak has been linked to contaminated ingredients served by at least 17 Chipotle locations. The Minnesota Department of Health has reported that the suspected contaminated ingredient has already been swapped out from all Chipotle menus in the state, and that it is now safe to eat at the chain.
"Since being contacted by the Minnesota Department of Health regarding a possible connection to this issue, we have offered our full cooperation to assist in their investigation, and replaced our entire supply of the suspect ingredient in Minnesota to ensure that it continues to be safe to eat in our restaurants," says Chipotle communications director Chris Arnold, who did not disclose what the suspect ingredient was. "While this issue in Minnesota does not present an ongoing risk to consumers, we are committed to working with health department officials while they look to determine a cause."