The food safety act allowed the FDA to enforce stricter guidelines for food service industries. How do these new food safety programs affect restaurants and food services? Read on for answers
The food safety act officially named the Food Safety Modernization Act, was signed into law on January 4, 2011, by President Barack Obama. It opened the doors for the FDA to better regulate how food is grown, harvested, and processed, promising to create food safety solutions that would protect consumers from foodborne illnesses. It's different than the HACCP, which we cover in other articles, but the idea is similar. Food safety programs were desperately needed. The signing of this food safety act was a significant step forward in the food industry, considering it was the first major update to food health and safety since 1938. Seventy years is a long time to wait for better laws and safer foods, and it took a lot of sickness deaths to make it happen.
The new laws came after there was an unusually high number of foodborne illness cases and deaths in the early 2000s, with an estimated one in six Americans falling ill due to tainted food. These tainted foods ended up costing the food industry billions of dollars in lost sales, legal battles, and recalls, not to mention the health costs for insurance companies and individuals who were affected by it. The laws were designed to strengthen the food safety system and to protect public health.
On a national level, this was a much-needed law to keep citizens safe from tainted food, and it's certainly done that. But how does this food safety act affect the restaurant and food service industry on a smaller scale?
Before the food safety act was signed into law, most food producers and processors were focused on reacting to contamination rather than preventing it. The problem with reacting instead of preventing is that it requires people to get sick before any action is taken, and it usually meant a lot of people needed to get sick before the problems were noticed. Obviously, this wasn't an ideal situation, especially for the ones who fell ill or died as a result. The cost of recalls and investigations was astronomical, and the public view of the food industry and the FDA was unfavorable. Something had to be done.
When the focus shifted to preventing contamination and foodborne illness, lives were saved, and public opinion slowly turned more favorable toward the FDA, but it had a big impact on American food production and processing. Suddenly, there were new costs to consider and inspections to pass. On the international side, the safety of imported foods came into question, and companies scrambled to find ways around the new laws or struggled to meet the new standards. If they didn't pass, they would lose a huge source of revenue, as an estimated 15% of the food in the United States was imported.
For farmers, the new safety regulations were harder to follow, often due to the high cost, and many smaller farms were hit especially hard. There's a lot of information online regarding this aspect of the food safety act so that we won't go into the details here, but losing small farms had a significant impact on food prices and availability, which translated into issues for restaurant owners, too. Many restaurants that once depended on small, local farms, were now forced to turn to larger farms and sometimes imported goods for their supplies. Whether this is a positive impact or a negative one is up to each restaurant to decide.
Ultimately, while food safety at production had increased, which made running a restaurant that much easier, it often translated into higher costs for the supplies restaurants needed to stay in business. As with the small farms, smaller restaurants sometimes struggled.
While the Food Safety Modernization Act mainly targets food producers and supply chains for restaurants, there are aspects that can directly affect your restaurant. Some of the changes include manufacturing, production, importing, distribution, and transportation of food items. For that reason, you and your supplier are equally responsible for checking the transportation conditions of your supplies, ensuring the correct temperatures were maintained and that the shipping vehicle is suitably clean. As the receiver of shipped goods, you do have the right to access the shipper's records, and even a responsibility to do so.
One of the biggest areas your restaurant could be affected in is product recalls. The new laws give the FDA the power to order mandatory recalls of tainted foods. That means you would need to keep an eye on FDA recalls and track all of your inventory carefully. If you have something in stock that gets recalled, you are obligated to follow the steps laid out by the FDA immediately. Tracking your inventory can be a painstaking process if you do it all by hand, and when the FDA sends a recall, there is little time for digging through piles of logbooks. Using productivity software specially designed for the specific needs of restaurants and food service businesses is one way to take the pressure off. We have a great article on Zip HACCP right here if you're interested in more information.
The direct impact of the Food Safety Modernization Act on restaurants is currently fairly small, but it has opened the floodgates for more scrutiny on every aspect of food service. It is likely just a matter of time before the FDA turns its sights on the restaurant industry, considering a high number of foodborne illnesses can be tracked back to how the food was stored, handled, or prepared at restaurants. It may be many years down the line, or it may never come at all, but we think it's better to be prepared now than surprised later. You can help by paying close attention to safe food handling procedures at your establishment, training your employees well, and logging everything. Preparation is paramount to success.