After all of the food borne illness scares of the past few years, do you still approach spinach and peanut butter with the same trepidation that I do? If so, you’ll be relieved to learn that congress has recently approved a bill that will allow for a much needed overhaul of the food safety system in the U.S.

In recent years, The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has earned the reputation of being inconsistent and ineffective when it comes to managing and controlling the various food production systems in the U.S. As a result of this poor management, tens of thousands of people become seriously ill each year from contaminated or improperly handled food, many of whom die as a result. In my opinion this is inexcusable and it appears as if congress finally agrees.

According to the new bill, the Food and Drug Administration will be given more power to not only regulate food that is produced in the U.S., but also products that enter the U.S. from abroad. This means more oversight on farms, more frequent and thorough inspecting of processing plants, clearer guidelines for food produced outside of the U.S. and more systems put into place that will help to prevent future outbreaks of food related illnesses before they occur.

I’m certain that books like Omnivore’s Dilemma and Fast Food Nation and films like the recently released Food Inc. have all played a part in increasing public awareness around this subject and helped to show people what a poor job the FDA has been doing with regard to food safety. The folks on Capital Hill seem to finally be getting the message as well.

The optimist in me believes this is the first of many steps, and that any change in the right direction is a good thing. The pessimist in me can’t help but wonder how, with the financial issues confronting Washington right now, the FDA is going to possibly be able to fund the the workload and staff increase that putting this bill into effect will most certainly require.

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see and hope for the best. In the meantime, there is plenty that we as consumers can do to protect ourselves from food related illnesses by ensuring that we are being responsible and smart in the ways we purchase, handle and prepare food.