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What goes on your plate? Keeping it safe

Press Photo By Lisa Miller Heidi Krank and her daughter Jayne Krank, shop for groceries Thursday evening at Dan's SuperMarket North in Dickinson. President Barack Obama signed a food safety bill, The Food Modernization Act, into law Tuesday.

The Food Modernization Act, signed into law Tuesday, may mean more work for local vendors and inspectors but they support the provisions, designed to keep America's food safe.

"The act does mean a little extra work at our office," said Sherry Adams, executive officer of the Southwestern District Health Unit. "There will be more frequent inspections and such, but anything we can do to keep the public safe, even if it means a little extra work, is well worth it."

The provision directs the Food and Drug Administration to increase the frequency of inspections and states that high-risk domestic facilities must receive an initial inspection within the next five years and no less than every three years after that.

During the next year, the FDA must inspect at least 600 foreign food facilities and double the number of those inspections every year for five years.

Adams said normally the Southwestern District Health Unit inspects restaurants, bars, schools and day cares. But with the increase in oil activity they have helped the state out by adding convenience stores, hotels and grocery stores to the list.

She added hospitals and nursing homes are also inspected but not by her office.

"Besides checking to make sure people are following safe food practices, we also try to educate people on food defense," Adams said. "Food defense is important because terrorism is still a very real threat in this country."

Some local agriculture officials are still reviewing the act.

"You have to read these types of documents carefully," said Kris Ringwall, North Dakota State University Dickinson Research Extension Center director. "There are a lot of details -- and just how the act will affect farmers and ranchers -- well that's in the details."

One provision directs the FDA to establish science-based standards for the safe production and harvesting of fruits and vegetables. These standards must consider not only man-made risks to fresh produce safety, but also naturally-occurring hazards -- those posed by the soil, animals and water.

Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., who supported the bill, said the law only applies to farms that have more than $500,000 in adjusted gross income.

"It is important to note that these standards would apply to fruit and vegetable farms and not farms that produce grain or row crops," he said. "Farms that have direct sales to consumers in excess of the value of sales to all other buyers would be exempt from FDA produce standards.

Another provision requires facilities to have a written preventive controls plan that spells out possible problems that could affect the safety of their products. This would outline steps they would take to prevent or significantly minimize the likelihood of problems occurring.

"The inspections and rules are pretty easy to comply with," said Dickinson Elks Lodge Manager Raymond Veverka said. "A lot of these provisions are already part of our practices."

Conrad added the FDA has yet to establish the rules and standards because the law was signed into law this week.

Another major provision of the act authorizes the FDA to mandate a recall of unsafe food if the food company fails to do so.

"The main goal of the act is to make sure that America's food supply is safe," Adams said.

She said people sometime forget that some food is imported and many people have access to food before they consume it.

The law also provides a more flexible standard for the procedure the FDA uses to keep suspect food from being moved and allows the FDA to suspend the registration of a food facility associated with unsafe food.

Conrad said the act is the first major overhaul of the food safety system since the 1930s.

"I supported the bill because it helps fill the gaps in our food safety system and will help address the foodborne illness outbreaks we have seen recently," Conrad said.