The most sweeping improvements to food safety laws in 70 years, the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) aims to strengthen the safety of food Americans consume – and as the nation’s second most agriculturally diverse state, Michigan aims to continue its leadership in the food safety arena. Spurred by national outbreaks of foodborne illness, the Food Safety Modernization Act was signed into law in 2011 to increase food safety requirements focusing on prevention of food contamination, rather than reactive measures to foodborne illness. The law affects everyone who handles a sizeable amount of food, whether Michigan farmers, food processors, handling facilities, truckers, animal feed manufacturers or food importers. “Food is a trust business,” says Tim Slawinski, emerging issues specialist for the Food and Dairy Division of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD). “You buy the food off the shelf, take it home, eat it, and trust it’s safe and that people are practicing food safety behind the scenes. If Michigan is a leader in complying with the provisions of the FSMA, we can help maintain and improve the trust level that people have in Michigan food products.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) implementation of this Act requires staggered compliance over several years, with some of the earliest expected in late 2016, Slawinski says. From a production standpoint, the law and its emerging final rules impact farms of certain gross sales and distribution areas. Estimates show 1,300 of Michigan’s 6,000 produce farms must comply with the law. Equally affected are Michigan’s food and animal feed processors, trucking companies and food importers. Truckers must accept more accountability for the food or animal feed they transport. Processors will see higher requirements for conditions of equipment and food contact surfaces. Qualifying farmers must meet irrigation water standards, as well as health and hygiene requirements for their workers. The result: fewer consumers should experience foodborne illness.
Many farms and food handlers already adopt some of the law’s outlined safety rules. For the first time, inspectors are required to visit farms, says Kevin Besey, director of the MDARD Food and Dairy Division. Michigan maintains a hefty team of professionals working on food safety behind the scenes, Besey says. About 600 people work in Michigan at the federal, state or local level to ensure food safety. That number may grow with full implementation of the FSMA. “We’ve been very active for the last couple of years, reviewing the proposed rules and talking about them with our industry partners and getting comments into the FDA to make sure the final rules are more successful and conducive to Michigan,” Besey says.