WASHINGTON — The Obama administration wants you to eat your fruits and vegetables. They also want the produce to be safe.

Long-awaited rules announced by the Food and Drug Administration Friday are designed to help prevent large-scale, deadly outbreaks of foodborne illness like those linked to fresh spinach, cantaloupes, cucumbers and other foods over the last decade. That means making sure workers are trained to wash their hands, irrigation water is monitored for harmful bacteria and animals do not leave droppings in fields.

The rules will phase in over the next several years and give the FDA sweeping new oversight over how food is grown on farms.

The majority of farmers and food manufacturers already follow good safety practices, but the rules are intended to give greater focus on prevention in a system that has been largely reactive after large outbreaks. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 48 million people – or 1 in 6 people in the United States – are sickened each year from foodborne diseases, and an estimated 3,000 people die.

The Obama administration has said they don’t want people to eat fewer fruits and vegetables because of safety concerns.

“The rules will help better protect consumers from foodborne illness and strengthen their confidence that modern preventive practices are in place, no matter where in the world the food is produced,” said Michael Taylor, the FDA deputy commissioner for foods.

The FDA also released rules Friday that will require importers to be more accountable for the safety of food they bring into the U.S. market. The government estimates that about 52 percent of fresh fruit and 22 percent of fresh vegetables are imported.

Taylor said both rules could help prevent illnesses such as an ongoing outbreak of salmonella linked to cucumber imported from Mexico. In that outbreak, four people have died and more than 700 people have fallen ill.

There have been many other outbreaks linked to produce in recent years. In 2006, E. coli in fresh spinach was linked to several deaths, including that of a 2-year-old. The CDC later issued a report saying the cause may have been contaminated irrigation water. A 2011 outbreak of listeria linked to cantaloupes killed 33 people. After outbreaks of cyclospora illnesses linked to imported cilantro, American investigators found toilet paper and human feces in Mexican fields where cilantro is grown.


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