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Food Safety Concerns (section 2)
The fundamental reason for addressing food safety is to minimize the risk that consumers become ill from the food they eat. A closely related objective for food law is that consumers are provided adequate and accurate information they can use when deciding which foods they want to consume.
This web page is an opportunity to briefly consider why food could be dangerous to a consumer.
Why food would make a consumer ill?
These several examples illustrate some of the situations that can result in unsafe food.
From a legal perspective, food is considered adulterated if it is rendered unsafe as a result of being contaminated by a substance that had been inadvertently or intentionally added to the product.
The definition of adulterated is not limited to adding substances. A food product is also adulterated if something has been removed from the food, something that the consumer would normally expect the food to contain, something that now that it has been removed reduces the value of the food, something that has been removed without the processor informing the consumer that it has been removed. For example, removing fat from milk but still selling the product as whole milk. Reference to this concept can be found in federal statutory law at 21 USC §342(b)(1).
The concept of “adulterated” is addressed in more detail in another section.
A second concern is whether consumers have adequate and accurate information on which to base their decisions about which food they want to consume. The law recognizes this concern by prohibiting the sale of any food that is misbranded. As stated previously, authority for this concept can be found in federal statutory law at 21 USC §331.
In implementing this prohibition, US federal law prohibits the sale of food that is being promoted or marketed with misleading information. The law requires that certain information be provided to consumers, generally as part of the product label. The law also addresses this concern by promoting consumer education and regulating advertising claims.
Adulteration and misbranding of foods are discussed throughout these materials. These two concepts provide the foundation for addressing the concerns about the safety of food and information about food products.
Some Commonly-Used Terminology
The discussion has focused on food safety; sometimes there are references to food security, food protection, and similar terms. A question is whether these terms have the same meaning and can be used interchangeably, or whether they are referencing different concepts. Although there does not appear to be a general agreement as the meaning of the terms, I would offer some observations.
Food security appears to have at least two definitions. Sometimes within the US, food security is used interchangeably with food safety. Outside the US, food security often means the concern about assembling a food supply that meets the nutritional and caloric requirements of the consumers. I would suggest we use the “international” definition of food security; that is, having enough food.
Food safety then can be used to mean the concern over whether the food will make the consumer ill.
Food protection is apparently defined as sheltering our food from intentional attacks that are intended to make the consumer ill. Agro-security, bio-security and similar terms often are used to refer to concerns over intentional attacks on our food system.
There are no standard definitions for several terms and that can lead to confusion, this is especially the situation for “food security.”
Additional Readings that may be of Interest
Last Updated January 4, 2008
This material is intended for educational purposes
only. It is not a substitute for competent legal counsel. Seek appropriate
professional advice for answers to your specific questions.
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