Figuring that the best way to protect the nation's food supply is to keep better tabs on it, the government is requiring some 400,000 facilities in the United States to register themselves and their products with the Food and Drug Administration.
In addition, anyone importing food from abroad will have to give regulators advance notice before its arrival: two hours for food shipments coming across the border by truck, four hours if aboard planes or trains, and eight hours if by ship.
"We are providing critical new tools for the FDA to identify potentially dangerous foods and better keep our food supply safe and secure," Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said Thursday in announcing the regulations that take effect Dec. 12.
FDA Commissioner Mark McClellan said the government will continue to work with food companies to assure that the requirements do not interrupt trade.
The Bush administration in May proposed making food companies notify regulators of shipments from outside the United States by noon on the day before its arrival. The industry complained that requirement for shipments as simple as daily truckloads of fresh vegetables from Canada and Mexico would interrupt trade.
Susan Stout, vice president for Grocery Manufacturers of America, said the FDA appears to have addressed the industry's chief concerns.
The FDA and Bureau of Customs and Border Protection also have agreed to share information on food shipments so companies will not have to duplicate their reporting.
Government officials said the registration requirements will enable them to respond more quickly to emergencies, especially if terrorists were to tamper with food in a way that would spread infectious bacteria.
Registering food suppliers and their products is expected to cost the industry $336 million the first year, the government said. Farms generally are not covered by the rules. Those that make and sell goods such as jelly and cheese will have to register.
By Emily Gersema