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Would You Like Some Data With Your Safer Food?

Returned jars of Peter Pan Peanut Butter are shown at a super market, in this Feb. 16, 2007, file photo in AtlantaSalmonella. Downer cows. More salmonella. The past year has seen several unpleasant and dangerous incidents of widespread food contamination. Today, Lyndsey Layton reports in the Washington Post that newly introduced Congressional legislation offers a slate of remedies to ramp up Food and Drug Agency capabilities for protecting the food supply. The draft legislation introduced in the House Energy and Commerce Committee would register and track food facilities, gather data on the the origin of food supplies, and support improvements to the system through a $1,000 annual fee levied against those facilities.

Rep. John Dingell (D-MI), who co-sponsors the “Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009″ with Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), noted on the committee site that “Consumer confidence in the nation’s food supply is low.”

The legislation would further give the FDA greater power to prevent problems through heightened inspection regiments, as well as the authority to initiate mandatory recalls in the event of a contamination or outbreak.

Waxman notes as well on the committee site that the poor state of the food safety system is a threat not just to public health, but to food companies themselves. Hence, Layton reports that “the proposal would put greater responsibility on growers, manufacturers and food handlers by requiring them to identify contamination risks, document the steps they take to prevent them and provide those records to federal regulators.”

Such a system would also present an opportunity for the FDA to provide relevant portions of those records to the public in an accessible format—and the bill summary indicates that the registry would require unique identification numbers for food facilities and importers. This information could make a welcome future addition to Data.gov, so that third parties and citizen groups can keep up with the safety of what’s in the their shopping cart.

Image: AP/John Bazemore

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