The domestic food safety rules proposed in January would require U.S. farms and food processors to take new precautions against contamination such as making sure workers' hands are washed, irrigation water is clean and livestock stay out of fields. Food manufacturers will have to submit food safety plans to the government to show they are keeping their operations clean.
FDA regulators say all of the proposed rules are necessary as the food system becomes more complex and more global. Food often stops in several locations and passes through many different hands in a matter of days before it hits grocery shelves.
And a lack of funding has given the FDA little oversight over what is being produced. The agency inspects most food companies in the United States only every five to 10 years, and it does even fewer inspections abroad.
The food safety law requires the agency to step up those foreign inspections, which jumped from 300 facilities in 2010 to 1,300 last year, according to the FDA. But that is still a just a fraction of the companies that import to the United States, and limited resources may mean the number of inspections won't continue to increase.
Many in the food industry, aware of the toll major outbreaks can have on sales, has been supportive of the rules. A statement from the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the industry's main trade group, said the rules "serve as a role model for what can be achieved when the private and public sectors work together to achieve a common goal."
Food companies have stopped short of pitching into pay for the regulations, however. In addition to the costs the industry will already incur from the requirements, the FDA and some lawmakers would like to collect user fees from the industry for putting the rule in place. Hamburg said that the FDA is talking to companies about that possibility.
All of the proposed rules exclude meat, which is mostly produced domestically and is regulated by the Agriculture Department, and seafood, which is already subject to regulations on import safety. About 80 percent of the seafood Americans eat is imported.
The rules would also exempt smaller importers that have less than $500,000 in sales annually.
The FDA will take comments on both the domestic and foreign food safety proposals in the next several months and then plans to issue final rules.