The rules, which span 1,200 pages, are aimed at creating safer conditions from farm to fork. Produce farmers would be required to ensure that their crops aren’t contaminated by bad water or animal waste. Some will likely be compelled to build fences to keep out wildlife and to provide adequate restrooms and hand-washing facilities for field workers.
Food-processing companies would be required to design and document an exhaustive regimen of sanitary measures — from pest control to bathroom cleanliness to what workers wear on the factory floor.
“It’s a big leap forward in applying modern, preventive measures across the whole food supply,” Michael R. Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, said in an interview. “It’s important to see these rules as setting the standards for food safety.”
The proposed rules focus on two key portions of a broader food-safety bill that President Obama signed into law two years ago and that many lawmakers, consumer advocates and industry officials say has taken far too long to implement.
FDA officials and consumer advocates say the rules are essential to laying the groundwork for a major revamping of the country’s food safety system.
These rules “are the heart and soul of the law,” said Sandra Eskin, director of the Food Safety Campaign at the Pew Charitable Trusts. “These are the priorities. Everything else flows from them.”
Taylor said FDA officials tried to craft the rules in a way that would set a common safety standard while allowing for the different ways in which foods are produced.
“The strength of this system is it is science-based; it’s not one-size-fits-all. It’s inherently adaptable to all sorts of operations,” he said. “We’re looking to take widely recognized principles and apply them to a widely diverse food supply.”
Food industry groups welcomed the proposals, saying they provided some clarity but stopped short of endorsing them outright. They said many growers and processors already adhere to high standards. Groups such as the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Produce Marketing Association said they would continue to work with the FDA to shape the rules in the months ahead.
The FDA estimated that the produce regulations would cost a large farm roughly $30,000 a year. The agency exempted a wide array of fruits and vegetables that are almost always consumed only after being cooked or canned, from plantains to pumpkins to sweet potatoes.