OTHER OPINION: New FDA rules for imported food protect public health

As we have become a nation of aspirational gourmets, we like to import our coffee beans, cheeses and wines.

We want them to be exotic, connoting adventure and an appreciation for the extraordinary. Thanks to globalization, an increasing number of less-fancy foods are imported, too. But there is a problem with this bounty.

We want to eat well and not die of food poisoning.

Two-thirds of fruits and vegetables and 80 percent of seafood are imported into the United States. But a mere 2 percent of food imports is inspected at ports as they enter the country.

That’s where the federal government can help. On July 26, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration proposed new rules that are intended to increase the safety of imported foods.

In announcing the rules, FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said: “Many of the most vulnerable commodities are coming from countries with less-mature systems in terms of regulatory oversight and farming practices. This is an opportunity to help build regulatory capacity and improve safety standards.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports recent examples of food-borne illnesses from imported foods include pomegranate seeds from Turkey that were used in a berry mix and caused a hepatitis A outbreak that sickened more than 150 people and cucumbers from Mexico that sickened 84 people in 18 states from a salmonella outbreak.

The rules will require importers to guarantee that their products meet the same standards as domestically produced goods. It allows the FDA to accredit third-party auditors in other countries to certify the safety of high-risk imported foods or the foreign facilities from which they come.

Thus companies are motivated to reassure worried consumers that they have prevented contaminated foods from entering the country, instead of responding to problems after an outbreaks.

The Pew Charitable Trusts, which support the draft rules, urged swift implementation …

St. Louis Post Dispatch