LAST SUMMER, cantaloupe grown at an Indiana farm triggered a 24-state outbreak of salmonella poisoning that sickened 261 people and caused three deaths. In recent days, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made public the results of an inspection of the farm. Salmonella was found on conveyor belts, there was trash and standing water in the packing house, and birds were roosting above — dropping feces on the processing line.
Until now, the basic approach of the U.S. government has been to react to such outbreaks. The Indiana case offers a powerful example of why this is flawed: With proper precautions, it could have been prevented. Two years ago Congress passed and President Obama signed landmark legislation to overhaul the nation’s food-safety laws, shifting toward preventing outbreaks. The Food Safety Modernization Act was approved with bipartisan support in both houses and industry backing. But it has been caught in a regulatory black hole.