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FDA Rule Could Have Stopped Contaminated Pomegranate from Entering U.S.

Jul 2, 2013

The wide-ranging food safety bill passed by Congress and signed into law in 2011 failed to do what it was intended to do in regard to the most recent hepatitis A outbreak, which is linked to contaminated pomegranate seeds used in prepared fruit drinks and smoothies.

According to a Wall Street Journal update on the outbreak, a total of 127 people in eight states have contracted hepatitis A after consuming these drinks, which were sold at Costco and Harris Teeter stores, mostly in the southwest U.S. The drinks were also sold at coffee shops and other retail locations. Among the victims, nearly half have required hospital treatment for their illness.

The report notes that the new food safety bill was designed specifically, in some regards, to prevent outbreaks linked to contaminated produce that’s imported to the U.S. The contaminated pomegranate seeds used to make these drinks were imported from Turkey.

The new law was passed in January 2011. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed a rule under that new law later that year which would allow the agency the ability to verify exporters to the U.S. to ensure they complied with food safety laws in the U.S. If a company could not comply with the safety standards, it would be barred from importing, according to the Wall Street Journal.

However, it has been almost two years since the FDA proposed that rule and it has yet to be given the go-ahead from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to put the rule into effect. OMB worries, according to the Wall Street Journal account, that the new rule will put financial burdens on more than 60,000 businesses that import foods to the U.S.

Still, if the rule under the law had been put into effect prior to these pomegranate seeds making their way into the U.S., the FDA may have had the ability to stop the shipment. That could have prevented these 127 or more people from contracting hepatitis A. The report from Wall Street Journal notes that the pomegranate was contaminated by human fecal matter.

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