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.
null

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keep tabs on the nation's food supply, adding that vulnerabilities in the food-safety system stemmed in part from outdated guidelines.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.

"There aren't a lot of questions about what steps make sense to controlling salmonella, it's just a matter of getting them in place," DeWaal added.

Preventing Rotten Eggs: New Rules for Food Safety

Each year, 76 million foodborne illnesses strike U.S. consumers, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including about 5,000 deaths.

Still, a recent study showed that many Americans ignore food recalls designed to keep them safe.

Recent food recalls include a recall of meat from JBS Swift Beef Co. at the height of E. coli season , as well as an atypical recall of Nestle's cookie dough.

Eggs can appear perfectly fine to eat, but salmonella can result in gastrointestinal illness, arthritis, even death. The FDA said today that the new egg rule alone can prevent 79,000 illnesses and 30 deaths every year.

Today's rules call for egg producers with more than 3,000 hens to register with the FDA, follow new cleaning requirements to disinfect poultry houses and be subject to tighter inspections to safeguard against bacteria that may be carried by farm equipment and employees.

If inspectors find any four eggs laden with bacteria, egg producers will be required to do more processing to destroy it, or to use the eggs for a purpose other than food.

"We're putting a lot more focus now on the prevention side," Biden said.

The new rules also call for both pasteurized and unpasteurized eggs to be refrigerated at 45 degrees -- from 36 hours after they're laid until the time they're bought by shoppers.

Truck drivers, shippers and distributors will be called on to ensure eggs are refrigerated every step of the way and document it.

The major egg producers are required to make changes within the year. Farms with fewer than 50,000 hens will have three years to implement the changes.

"We want to cut down on that disease, and we can do it by putting in place simple, preventive measures and monitoring systems," Hamburg said. "And it's very cheap. It will only cost about one cent per dozen eggs you buy."

Multiple federal agencies will also collaborate on the other efforts announced today.

For instance, within the year, the Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service will hire more people to serve as liaisons with state public health departments. By month's end, the USDA will ask state and local agencies to update their emergency guidelines for handing outbreaks of food borne illnesses.

The CDC will also improve its system to gather data from states and share that information within the year.

Part of a stepped-up effort to keep shoppers informed about recalls will also be to improve the government Web site, www.foodsafety.gov.

The USDA said last summer it would start providing a list of all stores that received tainted beef or poultry within 10 days of issuing a recall.

ABC News' Olivia Hallihan, Devin Dwyer and Brian Hartman contributed to this report.

-- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8021829. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8021829. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8021829. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8021829. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8021829. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8021829. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8021829. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8021829. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8021829. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8021829. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8021829.
Join the Discussion
You are using an outdated version of Internet Explorer. Please click here to upgrade your browser in order to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...
See It, Share It
A Gilchrist county sheriffs car sits at the end of a trailer home where 7 members of a family were slain by their grandfather in Bell, FL, Thursday, Sept., 18, 2014. The grandfather, Don Spirit, pictured, also killed himself.
Phil Sandlin/AP Photo | Gilchrist County Sheriffs Office
PHOTO:
St. Andre Bessette Catholic Church in Ecorse Michigan
PHOTO: Strawberries and cream are a healthy--and delicious--pairing to enjoy after a workout.
EMWestwood Photography/Getty Images
PHOTO: Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith arrives at the 86th Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood & Highland Center, March 2, 2014, in Hollywood, Calif.
Steve Granitz/WireImage/Getty Images