In a long-awaited decision, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finalized the first two of seven major rules under the bipartisan FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), in an effort to prevent the spread of foodborne illness.

The two rules finalized today, the preventive controls rules, focus on implementing modern food manufacturing processes for both human and animal foods. With finalization, the rules ensure that food companies will work with the administration to prevent hazards to customers on the front end, rather than waiting to act until an outbreak has occurred, FDA officials said in its statement.

“Today’s announcement sets us on the path to a modern food safety system that will prevent illnesses and continue to build confidence in the safety of the food served to our families every day,” said Dr. Stephen Ostroff, acting FDA commissioner.

The preventive controls rules require the following:

  • Human and animal food facilities will develop and implement written food safety plans that indicate the possible safety problems and outline steps for prevention.
  • Food companies will be accountable for monitoring their facilities and identifying any potential hazards in their products and prevent those hazards.
  • The FDA will be able to assess these systems and their outcomes to prevent problems and efficiently respond when food safety problems occur.

“We’ve been working with states, food companies, farmers and consumers to create smart, practical and meaningful rules,” said Michael R. Taylor, deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, FDA. “And we have made a firm commitment to provide guidance, technical assistance and training to advance a food safety culture that puts prevention first.”

The American Feed Industry Association (AFIA) hailed the decision in a released statement noting that rules benefits all parties and “allows firms more time for adjustment to basic program requirements such as Current Good Manufacturing Practices before adhering to more complicated aspects of the final rule.”

“With the release of the rule, the clock starts ticking for the industry as we inch closer to the first implementation deadline–in September 2016,” said AFIA senior vice president Richard Sellers. “AFIA will proactively be reading, studying and helping industry implement the rule at their facilities. We also plan to continue the conversation with FDA as this process moves forward to better understand FDA’s intentions and ensure transparency.”

An estimated 48 million people (1 in 6 Americans) get sick each year from foodborne diseases, according to recent data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Approximately 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die each year. Over the past few years, high-profile outbreaks related to various foods, from spinach to peanut products, have underscored the need to make continuous improvements in food safety.

The FDA announced the seven FSMA rules are scheduled to be finalized in 2016.