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Food Safety Regulatory Issues (SAFE 408/608)

Introduction to Food Safety Regulatory Issues
History of US Food Law (sec 1)
Purpose of Food Law (sec 2)
Relevant Agencies and Organizations (sec 3)
Regulatory Strategies (sec 4)
Regulating the Food Processing Sector (sec 5)
Directing Other Sectors of the Industry (sec 6)
Concluding Thoughts (sec 7)
Summary (sec 8)

Summary (sec 8)

This page summarizes ideas based on the topics addressed as part of SAFE 408/608.

  • Food safety law continues to evolve.
    • A cursory review of the history of US food law reveals many changes in the past 150 years; e.g., first food laws were enacted at local and state levels of government; initial federal government involvement in food law focused on the food processing sector; federal government involvement in food safety focuses on preventing “adulterated” and “misbranded” foods.
    • Food law is evolving to encompass the entire food supply chain; this is often described as “from farm to fork.”  The expanding scope means that food law includes much more than just food processing; it also encompasses final preparation (e.g., Food Code), and production agriculture (e.g., General Acceptable Practices (GAPs)).
    • Food law is evolving to address additional food safety issues, such as intentional attacks, allergens, and pesticide residues.
    • US food law is generally reactive, rather than proactive; the regulation of infant formula, dietary supplements, and allergens are several examples of government reacting after a food safety issue was perceived as posing a significant risk to consumers. One explanation for being reactive is that government wants to minimize regulation and becomes involved only when necessary.
    • Government seeks to base regulation on science, but economic and political pressures cannot be overlooked as forces in the decision making process.
    • International standards are playing an expanding role; there is additional regulation within nations throughout the world; and international food standards (science-based but market-driven) are emerging (e.g. Codex).
    • The decision of what to consume will remain the consumer’s privilege and responsibility, thus the law encourages consumer education and requires/urges businesses to provide information to consumers so they can make informed choices, but the law does not mandate what consumers must do.
  • Local, state, and federal governments each have a role in administering food law; the relationship among the various agencies is an effort to cooperate and collaborate.
    • A common political goal is that government will not decide what food should be consumed, but will take action to assure consumers are educated and informed so they can decide for themselves.
    • At the national level in the US, the responsibilities for assuring safe food has been assigned to several federal agencies. At the state level, departments of agriculture and public health often are responsible for food safety regulation.
    • Congress (the legislative branch of US national or federal government) establishes public policy for food safety regulation with the statutes it enacts. The agencies in the executive branch of government 1) provide details on implementing the policies by promulgating regulations and 2) enforce the laws when necessary. The courts in the judicial branch of government resolve disputes by interpreting the statutes and regulations.
  • Other nations also are concerned about food safety, but the international arena has no ultimate legal authority. 
    • However, the international arena is experiencing an expansion of suggested standards, negotiated agreements, and economic pressures.  There also is a stated desire to base standards on science, rather than individual economic preferences.
    • To simplify the challenge of complying with a variety of national standards, nations are attempting to harmonize their food regulations and, identify or recognize when their standards are "equivalent."
  • Congress is broadening the definition of “adulterated” and “misbranded” food products.
  • The scale of food businesses has heightened the level of risk of a food borne illness; for example, an unsafe food can be distributed over a large area and impact a significant quantity of food in a short time.  Thus, a communication network among public health entities has been developed.
    • The cost of implementing practices to reduce the risk of food borne illness appears to be more easily handled by large food businesses; thus enforcement of some regulatory requirements was phased in for smaller food businesses.
  • The role of U.S. federal government involves conducting inspections, pursuing enforcement, and establishing the Food Code to address “away from home food preparation.”
    • Food businesses are expected to assume an increased role in assuring the safety of their food product.  For example, even though government retains oversight or review responsibility, strategies such as HACCP and CARVER place more responsibility on business to self-assess their processes, and rely less on government inspection. Businesses also are responsible for developing labels; record keeping for purposes of product recall and traceability; understanding the need to assure safe products, ingredients, etc; education of producers; education of employees; and education of consumers. Food exporters must comply with the rules of importing nations, as well as the regulations of their home nation..
  • Much of U.S. food law relates to food labeling, recall procedures, GMP/HACCP, CARVER, and the safety of ingredients.
    • Law includes statutes, regulations, and court decisions, but for this subject matter, the emphasis will be on regulations and the agency explanations of their responsibilities or regulations.
    • The level of understanding of these topics needs to reflect the evolving workplace that emphasizes ability to find and apply information, rather than having information memorized.

You have completed this overview of Food Safety Regulatory Issues. Congratulations.

Last Updated November 17, 2010

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