Federal Eye: Administration Urged to Boost Food Safety Efforts

By Jane Black and Ed O’Keefe

Updated 4:11 p.m. ET

The Obama Administration today took a first step towards overhauling food safety regulations that have been blamed for a steady stream of food safety outbreaks and product recalls.

The new proposals, recommended by a working group President Obama created in March, emphasize prevention, enforcement and improving the government’s response time to food safety outbreaks.

“There are few responsibilities more basic or more important for the government than making sure the food our families eat is safe, Vice President Joseph Biden said at a White House news conference where he was joined by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “American families have enough to worry about today. They should not have [food safety] as a concern.”

Fears about food safety has been spurred by a series of national outbreaks of salmonella and E.coli in products as varied as peanuts, pistachios, spinach, tomatoes, peppers and, most recently, cookie dough. The complex and sometimes bizarre division of labor among the 15 federal agencies that oversee inspections is also a concern: The Food and Drug Administration is responsible for fresh eggs while the Department of Agriculture is responsible for egg products. Cheese pizzas are inspected by the FDA while meat-laden pepperoni pies go to the USDA.

The administration outlined a variety of measures to prevent the spread of salmonella, a bacteria that causes more than 1 million illnesses each year in the United States. The FDA issued a final rule to reduce the contamination in eggs, which the agency estimates will help reduce the number of foodborne illnesses associated with the consumption of raw or undercooked contaminated eggs by 79,000 or about 60 percent. It also will save more than $1 billion annually, Sebelius said.

The regulation has been a long time coming. President Bill Clinton first proposed similar regulations in 1999.

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