Aimed at enhancing U.S. food safety after a series of high-profile product warnings and recalls, the House passed the Food Safety Enhancement Act (HR 2749) by a vote of 283 to 142 on July 30.

If the Senate passes a similar bill, the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will have expanded oversight and powers over food safety and food processing facilities will face increased inspections.

The bill’s passage was quickly followed by separate food safety-related announcements from the USDA and FDA.

With an increasingly problematic strain of E. coli (O157:H7) appearing in some ground beef, the USDA said there will now be regular testing of meat trimmings, the main suspect of contamination. Some 600 meat processing plants — where inspectors already perform tests daily — are expected to be impacted.

Meanwhile, the FDA said stricter, mandatory standards for growing, harvesting and processing fruits and vegetables are being developed. It’s expected that the new rules will take about two years to write.

Voluntary guidelines targeting tomatoes, melons and greens were also released. FDA personnel said many producers are already following similar procedures and shouldn’t have to make major adjustments.

As the House debated HR 2749, concerns mounted that, due to a new food trace-back system, small farms would be subject to massive paperwork and a $500 registration fee that will be used to pay for the stepped-up inspections. After revisions, Democrats now claim that small farms will be exempted from the fee and trace-back system.

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