WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is proposing the most sweeping food safety rules in decades, requiring farmers and food companies to be more vigilant in the wake of disease outbreaks in peanuts, cantaloupe and leafy greens.
The long-overdue rules are aimed at reducing the estimated 3,000 deaths a year in the U.S. from foodborne illness. Just since this summer, listeria in cheese and salmonella in peanut butter, mangoes and cantaloupe are linked to more than 400 illnesses and as many as seven deaths.
The rules proposed by the FDA Friday will require farmers to take precautions against contamination on the farm - making sure workers' hands are washed, irrigation water is clean, and animals stay out of fields, for example. Food manufacturers will also have to submit food safety plans to the government.
"The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act is a common sense law that shifts the food safety focus from reactive to preventive," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, said in a written statement. "With the support of industry, consumer groups, and the bipartisan leadership in Congress, we are establishing a science-based, flexible system to better prevent foodborne illness and protect American families."
One in six Americans suffer from a foodborne illness each year, leading to about 130,000 hospitalizations. In fact, there are more than 250 potential foodborne diseases according to the CDC, including infections caused by viruses, bacteria and parasites.