New Rules Let FDA Detain Suspect Food

WASHINGTON - The Food and Drug Administration announced new rules yesterday under which it can detain for up to 30 days food suspected of posing a threat to health, according to published reports.

The rules were invoked under the 2002 bioterrorism act but include any instance where the FDA has evidence or information that a serious health threat exists.

"The rule strengthens the security of our food supply by enabling us to act more quickly and effectively to prevent potentially contaminated food from reaching consumers," Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said in a statement.

The agency has had the power to seize tainted or dangerous foods and does so, but that procedure can take time. In the past the FDA has had to depend on state authorities to detain suspect items until it could act. Now FDA officials have the authority to hold suspect items for as long as 30 days. The rule stipulates that the agency hold a hearing within two days if the owner of the products petitions for their return.

If the material is determined to be safe it will be returned to the owner. It is possible that perishable items could spoil while being held, but, according to officials, the act doesn't give the FDA authority to reimburse owners for losses.

The National Food Processors Association referred to the rule as a "powerful tool for protecting the public" but recommended that it not be applied sweepingly. "We believe that the request for a voluntary recall still represents the most viable option for a majority of these situations, with detention being considered as a second option," the association said in a statement.

Last October the FDA issued rules under the bioterrorism act that require all domestic and foreign facilities that manufacture, process, pack, or hold food that will be eaten in the United States to register with the agency, and that the agency be given advance notification of all food imported or offered for import into the United States.

The FDA said it soon plans to issue a rule requiring records to aid the agency in tracking food implicated in any future emergencies.
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