TUESDAY, Sept. 8, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- All companies that manufacture, process or distribute food for people or animals to eat must now report any problems that could lead to food-borne illness within 24 hours, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced Tuesday.
Notification must be made using the online Reportable Food Registry, which was mandated by Congress two years ago in the hope of speeding up the process of alerting the FDA of contaminated foods and cutting down on the distribution of such food.
"The purpose of the Reportable Food Registry is to provide a reliable mechanism for FDA to receive reports from the food industry of food safety problems and to be able to track the patterns of adulteration in human food and animal feed in order to support efforts by FDA to protect the public health to prevent food-borne illness," Michael Taylor, senior advisor to the commissioner of the FDA, said during a morning news conference.
Starting today, food companies covered by the new law must file an electronic report to the FDA when there is a probability that a food will cause serious sickness or death, Taylor said. Companies must report problems within 24 hours after a problem has been found, he said.
Companies that fail to report problems within that time period could have their products seized and could face criminal charges, Taylor said. The information submitted to the FDA will not be available to the public, he added.
The only exceptions to the new law are dietary supplements and infant formula, which have their own reporting procedures, he said.
Outbreaks of food-borne illness have plagued the U.S. food system in recent years. An estimated one in four Americans gets sick from food-borne illnesses each year, but the actual number is probably much higher. Of those people, about 300,000 are hospitalized and 5,000 die each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
For more on food safety, visit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.