Food illnesses affect one in four Americans and kill 5,000 of them each year, according to government statistics. Tainted food has cost the industry billions of dollars in recalls, lost sales and legal expenses.
The bill places greater responsibility on manufacturers and farmers to prevent contamination - a departure from the current system, which relies on government inspectors to catch contamination after the fact.
The measure also gives the FDA authority to recall food; now, it must rely on food companies to voluntarily pull products off the shelves. And it gives the FDA access to internal records at farms and food production facilities.
The bill sets standards for imported foods, requiring importers to verify that products grown and processed overseas meet safety standards. Public health experts say this is urgently needed, given the increase in imported foods. The FDA has been inspecting only about one percent of imported food products.
The bill would also require the FDA to regularly inspect farms and food processing facilities, something it does not currently do.