FDA unveils long-awaited food traceability rule

By Helena Bottemiller Evich 09/21/2020 05:21 PM EDT

The FDA on Monday released a proposed rule that outlines new traceability requirements for the food industry — a move that comes nearly a decade after Congress asked for the policy.

The nearly 200-page rule would mandate new recordkeeping requirements for entities manufacturing, packing or storing certain foods that have been tentatively deemed more likely to cause foodborne illness, including fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, leafy greens and melons as well as shellfish, nut butters and shell eggs.

In recent years, FDA has had to issue blanket warnings against products like romaine lettuce in the middle of dangerous outbreaks because of the inability to trace problems back to the source, noted Frank Yiannas, deputy commissioner for food policy and response, in a statement.

“With this proposed rule, we’re hoping to avoid situations like this in the future,” Yiannas said.

The background: The proposed rule stems from Section 204 of the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act, which required FDA to designate a list of “high-risk” foods and come up with additional traceability requirements for them — something the agency repeatedly dragged its feet on.

After a drawn out lawsuit from the Center for Food Safety, the agency eventually agreed to release a proposed rule by September 2020 and a final rule by November 2022.

Which foods are “high-risk”? Several years ago, FDA began working to come up with a so-called “high- risk” list that would have to meet the enhanced traceability requirements, but the agency has since rebranded this the “Food Traceability List,” or FTL for short. If a food product contains any of the products on the FTL, it would be subject to the proposed rule, the agency said.

Soft cheeses, sprouts, herbs, deli salads and several other categories of food are included on the proposed list. The proposed rule outlines how FDA can add or remove foods from the list. Read more on how the agency came up with the list.

What’s next: The agency will accept comments on the proposed rule for 120 days.

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