New produce safety rules from the government Friday are intended to help prevent the kind of large-scale outbreaks of foodborne illness that occurred over the past decade linked to fresh spinach, cantaloupes, cucumbers and other foods.
Under the rules, the government soon will have new oversight of the farms that grow Americans’ food. That means, for example, making sure workers are trained to wash their hands, irrigation water is monitored for harmful bacteria and animals do not leave droppings in fields.
The regulations are tailored to cover foods and growing methods that pose the greatest risk, and they target produce such as berries, melons, leafy greens and other items usually eaten raw and more prone to contamination. A farm that produces green beans that will be cooked and canned, for example, would not be regulated. There are also exemptions for smaller farms.
The rules require farmers to test irrigation water quality, regularly train workers on the best health and hygiene practices, and monitor wildlife that may intrude on growing fields, among other measures.
Compared with the original proposal, the final rule requires less stringent standards for irrigation water quality and reduces the frequency of testing, in some cases. The organic industry had expressed concerns about the rules, especially because many organic farmers use raw manure as fertilizer and try to treat irrigation water with fewer chemicals.
Advocates for food safety laws have cited the pressing need after several high-profile foodborne illness outbreaks. In 2006, E. coli in fresh spinach was linked to several deaths, including a 2-year-old. A 2011 outbreak of listeria linked to cantaloupes killed 30 people. This year, four people have died in a salmonella outbreak linked to Mexican cucumbers.
Also on Friday, the FDA released new rules to ensure the safety of food imported for the U.S. market.
These rules could help prevent against outbreaks such as the salmonella in Mexican cucumbers or cyclospora illnesses linked to Mexican cilantro. The FDA said the cilantro was grown in fields where American investigators found toilet paper and human feces.