Food Safety in the US: A Public Good to Prevent Foodborne Illness + Much More
When you and your family sit down to enjoy a meal at your favorite restaurant here in the United States, countless laws and regulations are in place to help ensure your food is safe to eat.
On a federal, state, and local level, many agencies are responsible for executing those laws and regulations to prevent the devastating health consequences of foodborne illness and a host of other negative impacts that can arise from unsafe food. These include limited food trade, restricted market access for food-related businesses, threatened livelihoods, increased food insecurity, and strained public health resources.
The bottom line is this:
People implementing food safety laws, along with consumers, have a HUGE responsibility every day to take prudent steps to keep food safe for the greater public good.
In this article, STOP Foodborne Illness will walk you through some key components of our food safety system, who’s involved, government entities you rely on, and how to learn more about what those agencies do. Plus, we’ll point you to some resources you can use to increase your effectiveness as a food safety warrior.
U.S. FOOD SAFETY SYSTEM: PRINCIPLES
Serving as the foundation of the U.S. food safety system is a set of guiding principles, which inform behaviors and decisions by people who play different roles in food safety. These principles are:
- Marketed foods must be safe and wholesome.
- Regulatory decisions must be grounded in science.
- Enforcement of food safety regulations is a governmental responsibility.
- Food industry businesses are expected to comply with regulations.
- Businesses that do not comply are held liable.
- The food safety regulatory process is visible to the public.
U.S. FOOD SAFETY SYSTEM: STAKEHOLDERS
At the end of the day, EVERY person involved with the food chain from farm to fork bears some responsibility for the safety of food. These stakeholders include:
- Food service establishments
- Food preparers
U.S. FOOD SAFETY SYSTEM: MAJOR FEDERAL AGENCIES
Assuring safe food is a complex challenge with many federal government agencies involved. Here’s a brief overview on the role of major ones:
United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
The FDA’s role in food safety focuses on the processing of food products (post-harvest). In general, the FDA regulates dietary supplements, bottled water, food additives, infant formulas, pet foods, livestock feeds, and other foods not under the regulatory aspects of the USDA. FDA ensures products are made right and labeled truthfully. It inspects facilities, collects and analyzes samples of products, and checks product labels. Learn more here.
United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)
Through the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), its role in food safety focuses on ensuring meat, poultry, and processed egg products in the marketplace are safe, wholesome, and accurately labeled. Through the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), its role includes providing consumer protection against plant and animal diseases. Learn more here.
United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
The EPA’s role in food safety focuses on regulating the use of pesticides on food. Learn more here.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
The CDC’s role in food safety is to lead programs to prevent illness, disability, and death due to domestic and imported foodborne illnesses. CDC provides the vital link between illness in people and the food safety systems of government agencies and producers of food. Learn more here.
U.S. FOOD SAFETY SYSTEM: MAJOR FEDERAL LAWS
Here we’re going to cover what we call our “top three” major federal laws governing the U.S. food safety system:
Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA)
Signed into law on January 4, 2011, FSMA is the most sweeping reform of our food safety laws in more than 70 years. Its primary aim is to ensure the U.S. food supply is safe by shifting the focus from RESPONDING to contamination to PREVENTING it. Learn more here (FDA site) and here (STOP site).
Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA)
This law requires more than 3,000 state-inspected processing plants in the U.S. to meet standards that are at least equal to standards for federally-inspected plants. Learn more here.
Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA)
This law protects the health and welfare of consumers by assuring that poultry products distributed to them are wholesome, not adulterated, and properly marked, labeled, and packaged. Learn more here.
U.S. FOOD SAFETY SYSTEM: STATE LAWS
Every state operates various health and food safety related agencies that play vital roles in maintaining food safety standards and responding to food safety concerns. Click here to access STOP’s handy list of food safety agencies and health departments by state.
U.S. FOOD SAFETY SYSTEM: INDUSTRY SELF-REGULATION
Producers, manufacturers, distributors, and retailers can also opt-in to many self-regulatory organizations. These groups come together to help set industry codes of practice and lobby on behalf of members. Some of these food industry associations include:
- Association of Food Industries
- American Feed Industry Association
- Food Industry Association Executives
- Food Processing Suppliers Association
- Grocery Manufacturers Association
- Global Food Safety Initiative
- International Association for Food Protection
- International Foodservice Distributors Association
- Natural Restaurant Association
- Retail Food Alliance
- Snack Food Association
TAKE ACTION TODAY!
To drive forward more food safety progress for the greater public good – and for you and your family – we’d LOVE your help! Please take action today:
ADVOCATE FOR FULL FUNDING OF FSMA
Click here to make your voice heard and let your legislators know why you want full funding for FSMA.
DONATE TO STOP
Click here to make a donation to help STOP as we work on your behalf to prevent foodborne illness and assist victims who need a place to turn when the devastation of foodborne disease strikes their lives.
BRUSH UP ON FOOD SAFETY BASICS
Click here to check out the section on STOP’s website that gives you LOTS of helpful information + tips on food safety basics you can implement on a daily basis to help keep the food you eat safe.