President Obama signs into law sweeping food safety bill expanding FDA’s powers

On Tuesday, President Obama signed one of the most expansive food regulation bills in living memory, giving the Food and Drug Administration sweeping regulation powers over food production and distribution.

The billion-dollar Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) quickly and quietly passed through the House and Senate in the final days of the lame duck session in response to recent outbreaks of food-borne illnesses throughout the United States. The FSMA is the most sweeping food safety systems since 1938.

Previously, food distributors issued voluntary recalls when it became evident that food-borne illnesses were causing health issues. The centerpiece of the new law will allow the FDA and the Secretary of Health and Human Services to issue mandatory recalls for a variety of food products deemed unsafe.

Apart from containing immediate health threats, however, the FSMA also greatly expands regulation requirements and the FDA’s inspection authority over food manufactures. The FSMA will increase the required number of inspections and authorizes the HHS secretary to suspend the registration of food facilities, according to the official summary of the bill.