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updated 11/30/2010 11:02:26 AM ET 2010-11-30T16:02:26

Safer food and more accountability from food companies are the goals of the Food and Drug Administration Food Safety Modernization Act.

Its passage leads to one of the biggest overhauls in food safety legislation since the 1930s, when the modern approach to food safety was established, said Robert L. Buchanan, professor and director of the Center for Food Safety and Security Systems at the University of Maryland.

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Most of the legislation, Buchanan told MyHealthNewsDaily, involves "making the 'machinery' of food safety work better behind the scenes. Hopefully it will prevent recalls, outbreaks and contamination, and provide the tools for the FDA to do a better job."

The aim of Senate Bill 510, sponsored by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), is to keep large-scale recalls — such as the ones directed at peanut butter last year and eggs this year  — from happening again, said Craig Harris of the Food Safety Policy Center at Michigan State University. Those recalls were due to salmonella bacteria contamination, which sickened hundreds.

"As our food system in the U.S. has become more industrialized, and the companies have become much larger in scale, now a peanut outbreak – a contaminated peanut situation – can affect people in more than half the country," Harris said.

Story: Senate moves forward on food safety bill

The new bill would increase the number of inspections at food facilities, require hazard analysis and preventive control requirements and give the FDA the power of mandating recalls, he told MyHealthNewsDaily.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) could bring the bill for a procedural vote today (Nov. 17). It was put aside earlier this year after Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) expressed concerns about the costs that would be incurred by the bill's regulations.

If the bill passes, the House — which approved its own version of the bill last year — and Senate will have to iron out the differences before the bill is sent to the president for final approval.

The bill would mainly affect food producers, manufacturers and distributors, but consumers' lives would be touched, too. Here are five effects you might see:

1. You can put the Pepto away.
Because of stricter safety guidelines, you'll spend fewer days at home sick from contaminated food. All foods will be required to come with a plan to evaluate and address potential contamination hazards, Buchanan said. The bill also aims to increase access to records of food-borne illness and improve the reporting and analysis of them, he said. Laboratory accreditation groups will be recognized so that food-testing labs need to meet a determined set of standards.

2. You'll have a better idea of where the recalled goods came from.
Better tracing of high-risk food will allow the FDA and food companies to pinpoint the sources of outbreaks, so companies can remove contaminated products from store shelves. There also will be more inspections of foods that come from other countries, allowing more-accurate tracking of the sources of dangerous foods.

3. You won't necessarily see more recalls.
Most companies, to protect their brand, already comply with voluntary recalls, so a spate of new recalls is not likely with passage of the bill, Buchanan said. But the FDA will have the power to recall products from the rare company that cares more about the bottom line than its reputation, as well as the power to issue fines for violations of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

4. You'll know the lettuce you bought has gone through more-stringent inspection requirements.
"The thing you want is smarter inspections," Buchanan said, and inspection efforts that are focused where they're needed most. The new bill will give the FDA power to decrease the amount of time between inspections, and mandate yearly inspections of high-risk companies.

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High-risk companies include those that have a poor track record regarding  inspections, as well as those that manufacture easily contaminated foods such as oysters or fresh produce, Harris said. ( Produce is high-risk because plants can take up contaminated irrigation water, he said.)

5. The price for that can of soup probably won't go up by much.
Although costs of food production may rise as a result of the bill, the amount isn't likely to make a huge dent in most large food companies' profits, Harris said, so the added costs shouldn't trickle down to the consumers. For small companies and local farmers, the bill includes exemptions and special accommodations, recognizing that some companies may not be able to keep up with the costs of adopting new safety practices.

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