The US Food Safety System Explained
April 21st, 2021
The US food safety system is one of the safest in the world with outbreaks of foodborne illness being a rare occurrence. But the US food safety system is also one of the most complicated systems. It is governed by 15 federal agencies and is controlled by 30 federal laws and regulations.
If this sounds complicated to you, you aren’t wrong! Below, we break down the complexities of the US food safety system to help you better understand how the US food safety system impacts your catering business.
Which federal agencies regulate the system?
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) are four of the biggest players regulating the US food safety system.
The USDA, the FDA, and the FSIS are all primarily responsible for overseeing the safety of the U.S. food supply at the federal level, and their responsibilities overlap a bit. They are all responsible for inspecting both domestic and imported food, enforcing laws and regulations, regulating food labels and packaging, and providing food safety training, research, and rulemaking. Where they differ is that the USDA and the FSIS are primarily focused on animal products, such as meat and poultry, whereas the FDA is primarily focused on all other types of food.
The CDC is mainly responsible for foodborne illness surveillance, prevention, and response, as well as collecting data and investigating outbreaks of foodborne illnesses, both at the local and the national levels. They also provide the state and local health department infrastructure to support foodborne illness response and investigation.
A history of US food safety regulations
The US food safety system began to take shape in the early 1900s when people began to first recognize food safety issues, false or misleading labelling practices, and poor sanitation practices in the US food system and meatpacking plants. In 1906 and 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt called on Congress to pass the first food safety laws, the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA). The Meat Inspection Act triggered the formation of the FDA in 1906.
Throughout the 1900s, additional food safety and regulation acts were made into law as more public health and food safety issues gained national attention, and slowly the modern US food safety system began to take shape.
In 1970, the CDC began recording data on deaths related to foodborne illnesses, which they continue to do to this day. The CDC’s record-keeping is used to control and prevent outbreaks of foodborne illnesses and to trigger food recalls.
One of the most recent regulations to pass in the US food safety system is the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which was passed in 2011. It is one of the most important food safety regulations to be passed in many decades since the creation of the US food safety system in the early 1900s. The primary purpose of the FSMA is to focus on the proactive prevention of food-borne disease outbreaks, rather than simply respond to and contain food-borne disease outbreaks after they begin. This means that the FSMA assigned the FDA the authority to regulate the way foods are grown, processed, and harvested so that they can implement more preventative measures.
What state and local agencies regulate the system?
In addition to the complicated federal regulation of the US food system, there are also thousands of state and local agencies that regulate the system. In the US, each state has different authorities and regulations in place, so it varies widely. Some states have their own inspection systems for products that are produced and sold only in-state, such as meat. These in-state systems replace the need for federal USDA inspections. Other states have their own regulations for pesticide testing on fruits and vegetables grown in-state.
Benefits of the US food safety system
The US food safety system protects the health and well-being of all Americans and helps ensure that all products are safe and correctly advertized. The system is so large and complex that it also provides a significant number of jobs for the American people and makes up a significant portion of the US economy.
Not everything about the food industry needs to be complicated
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