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Locating Food Safety Law

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Introduction to Food Law

Concerns about Food Safety
Overview of Key Points

US Food System
Scope of the Challenge:  Farm-to-Table

How US Law is Created

Finding US Food Safety Law Information

Overview of US Food Law
Government "Players" in US Food Law
Requirements for Food Businesses
Producer/Processor/Preparer Liability
Looking Forward/Future Issues

Where to find information about food safety laws

The purpose of this web page is to introduce how to locate laws relative to food safety.  Although our laws are comprised of state and federal statutes, regulations and court decisions, the focus of this introduction will be on federal statutes and regulations because much of our food safety law is based on federal law. 

This is only an introduction but it will be adequate for this course. Visit Selected Law Materials for a more complete introduction to locating laws.

This site is for educational purposes only. It is not a substitute for competent legal counsel. Seek appropriate professional advice for answers to your specific questions.

Law-related materials are available in both traditional print (books) and increasingly on the worldwide web (WWW).  This introduction focuses on WWW and only makes mention of printed materials. However, you may find it effective to use both formats (if you have access to printed law materials).

Statutory Law -- Federal Statutes

United States Code

    • Section 331 of Title 21 in subchapter III of Chapter 9 (Prohibited Acts)
      • note the prohibition against adulterated and misbranded foods
      • note the application of this law to only food in "interstate commerce" but do not overlook the broad definition of interstate commerce
    • Section 342 of Title 21 in subchapter IV of Chapter 9 (Adulterated Food)
    • Section 343 of Title 21 in subchpater IV of Chapter 9 (Misbranded Food)
      • note the encompassing definitions of both adulterated and misbranded foods
  • When citing the US Code, the chapter (and subchapter) generally is NOT noted; instead just the title and section numbers are used to identify the statute, e.g., 21 U.S.C. §331 ( title U.S.C. section ).
  • The US Code is available in several printed multi-volume versions; one version is published by the federal government; several others are printed by private publishers. 
    • At the NDSU Library, the US Code (version printed by the government) can be found in the Reference room at Ref KF 62 1994.
  • The US Code also is available on the WWW at http://www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode/ (Legal Information Institute) and at http://uscode.house.gov/ (Office of the Law Revision Counsel, US House of Representatives)
  • The government printed version of the US Code is updated with supplemental volumes as needed.
  • Use the Index to search the government printed version.
  • Use keywords to search the US Code on the WWW; both web sites listed above have search capabilities.
  • Citation format: 21 U.S.C. §331 ( title U.S.C. section )
    • § -- symbol for section.

Administrative Law -- Federal Regulations

Code of Federal Regulations

  • The Code of Federal Regulations (C.F.R.) contains all regulations of the agencies of the federal government.  The majority of agencies we will consider are executive agencies.
  • The C.F.R. is available in printed format (approximately 200 paperback volumes) and on the WWW.
    • At the NDSU Library, the C.F.R. can be found in the Reference room at Ref KF 70 A3
    • On the WWW, the CFR can be found at http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/cfr-table-search.html;
      • This web site also includes regulations from previous years -- this could be important in some situations; for example, if an issue arose 2 years ago that remains unresolved, the regulation in effect at the time the problem arose would likely apply to the problem, not the current regulation; therefore, access to the earlier version of the regulation is invaluable.
  • The C.F.R. is organized by the same 50 titles as the United States Code
  • To locate a regulation in the the printed version of the C.F.R. use the Index; to locate a regulation in the C.F.R. on the WWW, use the search mechanism found at http://www.gpoaccess.gov/cfr/index.html.
    • HINT -- Most FDA "food" regulations are found in parts 1 through 199 of Title 21 of the CFR
    • HINT -- Most FSIS regulations are found in parts 300 to 592 of Title 9 of the CFR; regulations for other USDA agencies (APHIS and PS of GIPSA) are found throughout Title 9 of the CFR.
    • HINT -- Regulations for additional USDA agencies are found in Title 7 of the CFR; for example, AMS (parts 27 to 209), more APHIS (parts 300 to 399), FGIS of GIPSA (parts 800 to 899)
    • HINT -- Parts 53 to 59 of 7 CFR address livestock, meat, eggs, and dairy; part 810 addresses grain standards.
  • Citation format: 7 C.F.R. §42.101 ( title C.F.R. section)
  • The printed version of the C.F.R. is updated annually by replacing the entire volume (this is an ongoing process, that is, by the end of the year, all the volumes have been replaced and then the process is repeated the following year). The WWW site for the C.F.R. is updated on the same schedule as the printed version.
    • Since the C.F.R. is updated on a schedule and each volume is updated once each year, but regulations are being added or revised on an ongoing basis, there is a lag between what is published in the C.F.R. and the most recent changes. The Federal Register is used to "close this gap."

Federal Register

  • All federal regulations are published in the Federal Register as they are finalized; the Federal Register also contains announcements (e.g., program announcements), notices, and proposed regulations issued by federal agencies.
  • The process of promulgating a federal regulation involves 1) publishing the proposed regulation in the Federal Register, 2) allowing time for public comment and hearing, 3) agency revisions based on the public comment, and 4) publication (again) in the Federal Register in its "final" form. After these steps are completed, the regulation takes effect.
    • Use the Federal Register to locate proposed regulations, as well as recently announced final regulations.
    • It may be helpful to think of the C.F.R. as containing only final regulations; proposed regulations (those in the process of being finalized) are NOT yet part of the C.F.R.
    • The C.F.R. does NOT contain recently announced final regulations due to the time lag in the process of updating the C.F.R.
    • Example of interaction between a federal statute and federal regulation.
  • Federal Register is published daily; it is available in printed format and on the WWW.
  • To locate information in the printed version of the Federal Register -- 1) use the end-of-the-year Index to locate materials from previous years 2) use the January-to-end-of-previous-month Index to locate materials from previous months of the current year, and 3) use the last page of the most recent issue of the Federal Register to locate materials for the current month.
  • A search mechanism is provided for searching the Federal Register on the WWW. Also use "List of CFR Sections Affected" at http://www.gpoaccess.gov/lsa/index.html
  • Citation format: Federal Register: March 15, 2004 (Volume 69, Number 50) Pages 12154-12155.


Where to find agency explanations

Responsible agencies frequently describe their authorities and their implementation practices; these explanations provide invaluable insights into the agency's perception of its role.

For example, visit LSU Libraries Federal Agencies Directory; click on

  • Executive (since most agenices are in the executive branch)
  • Executive agencies (note the list of Departments)
  • Department of Health and Human Services
  • Food and Drug Administration
  • Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition

Another example; start at LSU Libraries Federal Agencies Directory; click on

  • Excecutive
  • Executive agencies
  • Department of Agriculture
  • Food Safety
  • Food Safety and Inspection Service

The LSU site is an excellent place to begin to find any federal agency.

Agencies frequently have newsletters and other subscription-based information.  They also often provide educational materials.  These are available in a variety of formats.  Examples of web-based sources include


Do not overlook --

  • State statutes and regulations
  • Court decisions
  • International food standards

Private sources of food safety information


The next section provides an overview of US food law; it begins with a general description of the history of that topic.

Last updated February 6, 2010

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