If you find frequent allergy-related food recalls upsetting you are not alone, but a new federal rule may help reduce the cross-contamination responsible for many of these mass recalls. The new rule, which falls under the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act, does not address food manufacturing processes as we might expect. Rather, it lists requirements for the safe transport of food by truck, or railway car.
Prior to implementing the new Sanitary Transportation of Human and Animal Food rule, the FDA had no authority to oversee truck and rail carriers involved in the bulk transport of edibles, making it impossible to establish cross-contamination preventive measures.
Cross-contamination occurs when a small amount of food allergen accidentally gets into another food. In transport situations, this can occur, for example, when allergen residue from a food shipment is not removed from the carrier vehicle, and subsequently contaminates another load of food.
The New Rule
To prevent cross-contamination, the food transport rule gives both shippers and carriers specific guidelines for activities such as hand washing and outlines product segregation requirements to protect food carried in bulk vehicles. The new rule also states:
- Shippers must implement procedures ensuring earlier food cargos cannot make subsequent food shipments unsafe, have an action plan to address possible cross-contamination situations, and keep a detailed record of their food safety efforts.
- Carriers must keep records identifying the cargo content of their shipments, and when each transport vehicle is cleaned. Shippers can view this information upon request.
The FDA is now authorized to inspect shipper and carrier records and can seize food shipments – or enforce penalties – for transport rule non-compliance.
Maybe A Little Less Worry
It would be great if shippers and carriers could avoid cross-contact the way we do in our kitchens, by designating and color-coding certain containers (vehicles) for allergenic items—but, that lies too far outside practicality and cost concerns for trucks and trains.
Still, the new safe transport rule should help prevent situations such as the recent mass recall of snack foods made with peanut-tainted flour. Although the FDA is still investigating, it seems the contamination occurred during transport, since the flour came from a mill that never processes peanuts.
The Sanitary Transportation of Human and Animal Food rule went into effect this past June. Large companies are expected to comply with its requirements by April of 2017; smaller firms have an extra year to do so. It’s hoped the rule will cut down on the incidence of a product recall, and help all affected by food allergy feel a bit more secure.