The U.S. Senate has passed comprehensive food-safety legislation this morning in a 73 to 25 vote. Reports out of Washington indicate that the House may take up the Senate bill later this week.

The Senate passed a key cloture vote Nov. 29 by a margin of 69 to 26 that allowed leadership to limit debate and bring the bill to a final vote on Nov. 30

   “The House has to make a decision what they are going to do with the bill,” said Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy for the United Fresh Produce Association.   “We expect them to take up the Senate bill, possibly in the next few days.” The New York Times also has reported that leading House Democrats will consider passing the Senate's version of the bill to ensure approval before the current Congress ends its session for the year. The House passed its food-safety bill back in July 2009.

The Senate bill (S. 510) would expand the Food and Drug Administrations’ powers to reach more broadly into the food chain, for example, increase inspections of food processors and imposes stricter standards for producers. FDA also could order recalls, regulate imported food and require food producers/processors to develop formal food-safety plans, along with other changes. The House version of the bill allotted more funding for FDA to carry out its new responsibilities, and included stricter rules overall.

The most controversial provision would exempt farms from inspections and other food-safety requirements that sell product directly to consumers, restaurants and grocery stores provided the sales do not total more than $500,000 in the last three years.This eventually caused some food-industry groups to pull their support of the legislation.

“With today’s Senate vote, we have taken another important step toward modernizing America’s food safety network and focusing on preventing problems before they occur, rather than just reacting to them,"    Leslie Sarasin, president and chief executive officer, Food Marketing Institute, said in a prepared statement.