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Senate passes bill to increase food safety

Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa (left, with Senator Mike Enzi of Wyoming) is hopeful the Senate bill will pass the House. Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa (left, with Senator Mike Enzi of Wyoming) is hopeful the Senate bill will pass the House. (Harry Hamburg/ Associated Press)
By Mary Clare Jalonick
Associated Press / December 1, 2010

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WASHINGTON — The Senate passed legislation yesterday to make food safer in the wake of deadly E. coli and salmonella outbreaks, potentially giving the government broad new powers to increase inspections of food processing facilities and force companies to recall tainted food.

The $1.4 billion bill, which would also place stricter standards on imported foods, passed the Senate 73 to 25. Supporters say passage is critical after widespread outbreaks in peanuts, eggs, and produce.

Those outbreaks have exposed a lack of resources and authority at the FDA as the embattled agency struggled to contain and trace the contaminated products. The agency rarely inspects many food facilities and farms, visiting some every decade or so and others not at all.

The bill would emphasize prevention so the agency could try to stop outbreaks before they begin. Farmers and food processors would have to tell the Food and Drug Administration how they are working to keep food safe at various stages of production.

President Obama praised passage of the bill and urged the House to act quickly on the legislation.

Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, the sponsor of the Senate legislation, said he has agreement from some members in the House to pass the Senate bill, which would send the legislation straight to the president’s desk.

The Senate legislation would:

■ Allow the FDA to order a recall of tainted foods.

■ Require larger food processors to create detailed food safety plans.

■ Require the FDA to create new produce safety regulations for producers of the highest-risk fruits and vegetables.