Foods Face Tougher Path From Farm to Table

The Harvest Lane Farm in Pennsylvania is the vanguard in the fight to keep salmonella out of eggs.

Hens arrive at Harvest Lane Farm certified salmonella-free. Traps in the hen house keep bacteria-carrying rodents away. Manure is tested for salmonella, and any positive results means mandatory egg testing.

"If eggs would test positive, then immediately that means that flock would be diverted to pasteurization -- which means consumers won't be buying those eggs in their egg carton at the grocery store," Chris Pierce, general manager at Heritage Poultry Management Services, told ABC News today in Lititz, Pa.

Steps like those are already underway in Pennsylvania -- a state with a model program to prevent tainted eggs from entering the food supply -- and will soon be embraced nationwide.

VIDEO: The Obama administration announces steps to prevent food-borne illnesses.
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The massive effort to keep food safe for consumers received a boost from regulators in Washington, D.C., today, as the Obama administration issued new rules for eggs, poultry, beef and some fruits and vegetables.

It's a responsibility shared by farmers in Pennsylvania Dutch country, inspectors in a small trailer on the U.S.-Mexico border, truckers on the highways and grocers in small towns from Maine to California: As Americans consume fresh food from all over the world, countless people are working to ensure that it's safe to eat.

New measures, announced this afternoon by Vice President Joe Biden, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, include requirements to refrigerate eggs during transport and more stringently inspect poultry houses to prevent the spread of salmonella. It also includes efforts intended to keep E. coli out of beef and prevent bacteria from entering fruits and leafy greens.

"There are few responsibilities more basic or important than the government making sure the families in America eat food that's safe," Biden said today.

The changes come four months after President Obama laid out plans to improve food safety after concerns about tainted peanut butter and tomatoes, which were quickly followed by problems with pistachios.

Obama vowed to boost the number of food inspectors and modernize labs to try to better keep tabs on the nation's food supply, adding that vulnerabilities in the food-safety system stemmed in part from outdated guidelines.

"Part of the reason is that many of the laws and regulations governing food safety in America have not been updated since they were written in the time of Teddy Roosevelt," he said.

Efforts to keep eggs safe, in particular, have been a long time coming. The FDA has been reviewing the policy since the 1990s, when the government couldn't figure out whether the U.S. Department of Agriculture or the Food and Drug Administration should be responsible for governing eggs.

Of the rules announced today, FDA Commissioner Margaret "Peggy" Hamburg said, "It means that we'll have disease-free hens laying disease-free eggs, and we'll keep those eggs protected from the time that they're laid to the time they're delivered into grocery stores and, hopefully, to your table."

"Now there's going to be uniform program for egg safety that applies across the board, regardless of where the eggs are from," said Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

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