By Cynthia Dizikes | Published Thu, Nov 19 2009 3:02 pm

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A food safety bill meant to improve the Food and Drug Administration’s food-borne illness prevention, detection and response in the wake of the widespread salmonella outbreak that killed at least three Minnesotans this year is headed to the Senate floor for a vote.

Minnesota’s senior Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who originally sponsored the legislation, called for swift floor action after the bill passed out of committee this week.

“Food safety is not only an issue of public safety but also consumer protection,” Klobuchar said in a statement.  “Ensuring a rapid response to outbreaks of contaminated food is critical to maintaining public trust in our food supply.  This bill gives the tools and the authority needed to improve the current inspection and recall system.”

Klobuchar said the bill:

•Requires all facilities to have in place preventive plans to address identified hazards and prevent adulteration, and gives FDA access to these plans and relevant documentation.

•Allows FDA to recognize laboratory accreditation bodies to ensure U.S. food testing labs meet high quality standards and requires food testing performed by these labs to be reported to FDA.

•Allows FDA to enable qualified third parties to certify that foreign food facilities comply with U.S. food safety standards.

•Requires importers to verify the safety of foreign suppliers and imported food.

•Allows FDA to require certification for high-risk foods, and to deny entry to a food that lacks certification or that is from a foreign facility that has refused U.S. inspectors.

•Increases FDA inspections at all food facilities, including annual inspections of high-risk facilities and inspections of other facilities at least once every four years.

•Enhances food-borne illness surveillance systems to improve the collection, analysis, reporting and usefulness of data on food-borne illnesses.

•Requires the secretary of HHS to establish a pilot project to test and evaluate new methods for rapidly and effectively tracking/tracing fruits and vegetables in the event of a food-borne illness outbreak.

•Gives FDA the authority to order a mandatory recall of a food product when a company fails to voluntarily recall the product upon FDA’s request.

•Empowers FDA to suspend a food facility’s registration if there is a reasonable probability that food from the facility will cause serious adverse health consequences or death.

•Directs FDA to help food companies protect their products from intentional contamination and calls for a national strategy to protect our food supply from terrorist threats and rapidly respond to food emergencies.

•Increases funding for FDA’s food safety activities through increased appropriations and targeted fees for domestic and foreign facilities.