File this one under "least surprising food safety stories" of 2013." The FDA announced on Saturday that it was extending the public comment period for the two major Food Safety Modernization Act-related regulations it released at the beginning of January a full three months to May 15. The two new regulations are designed to make "manufactured foods" (anything processed) and fruits and vegetables safer than they are today, and potentially prevent millions of illnesses a year, but they won't take effect until after a public comment period, time for revisions and then a grace period that will allow the industry to actually implement the regulations. Food Safety News explains:
“FDA is taking the action of extending the deadline for the comment period in response to requests for that extension, in order to allow interested persons additional time to submit comments,” an agency media release read.
At least one of those requests referenced by the FDA was made by the United Fresh Produce Association earlier this week.
The original deadline for comments from the industry and other strakeholders had been Friday, February 15, 30 days after the rules were "published" on January 16, but interested parties balked at the idea that they would have to sift through 1236 pages of regulations AND develop a coherent response within one measly month.
That makes total sense from the standpoint of an industry struggling to adapt to a gargantuan, expensive set of new regulations. But it's worth noting that this 90-day extension pushes the implementation timetable for FSMA -- already delayed by over a year -- back even further. That's bad news for Americans at risk of deadly foodborne illnesses, including the very young and very old, whom President Obama vowed to protect from harm when he first took office amidst a crippling outbreak of salmonella.