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In Part 1 and Part 2 of our mini-series on the milestones of food safety, we covered food preservation methods from antiquity through the industrial age. In Part 3, we complete the series with a survey of the top 10 Federal Laws and Regulations having the greatest impact on food production and consumption since the 20th century. These legal developments have been critical to protecting consumers, as food safety science and technology are meaningless unless companies are held accountable to laws enforced by regulating agencies.
Upton Sinclair’s publication of The Jungle, a novel portraying the health violations and unsanitary practices in the American meatpacking industry, spurred public outcry and governmental reform. In response, passage of both the Pure Food & Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act caused American deaths from food-related illnesses to drop significantly.
Congress passed the Federal Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act giving the recently founded Food and Drug Administration authority to issue food safety standards. The FDA today is the primary administrator of food safety in the U.S., along with the USDA and CDC.
In U.S. v. Dotterweich, the Supreme Court ruled that a corporation may be prosecuted for food safety violations, even if top officials were not aware of the violations. This decision opened up the food industry to lawsuits from consumers.
The Food Additives Amendment, more typically referred to as the “Delaney Clause,” requires manufacturers of new food additives to establish their safety for consumers and prohibits the approval of any food additive shown to induce cancer in humans or animals. As a result, the FDA published the first list of nearly 200 substances generally recognized as safe (GRAS), updating it as needed.
A Consumer Bill of Rights was proclaimed by President John F. Kennedy in a message to Congress. It included the right to safety, the right to be informed, the right to choose, and the right to be heard. This legislation contributed to the growth of food advocacy groups and consumer activism for accurate food labeling.
PulseNet is a national network of public health and food regulatory agency laboratories coordinated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). FoodNet tracks trends in infections commonly transmitted through food and reports the number of laboratory-confirmed illnesses caused by foodborne infections. NARMS is a public health surveillance system that tracks antibiotic resistance in foodborne enteric bacteria from humans, retail meats, and animals meant for food. Together, these databases help to trace foodborne illness across the globe.
Generated by an E. coli outbreak, food safety methodology shifted radically from conventional “sight, smell and touch” food inspection to a science-based approach known as Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Points (HACCP). Acknowledged by the CDC for significantly reducing foodborne illness since it was implemented, HACCP rigorously analyzes and controls biological, chemical, and physical hazards along the entire supply chain.
After the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, Congress passed the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act to provide new authority in food safety activities, including record keeping, registration of facilities, prior notice for imports, and administrative detention.
ISO 22000 addresses food safety management to help the global food industry identify and control safety hazards. The standard stresses interactive communication, systems management and HACCP principles.
Perhaps the most important legislation in the 21st century, the Food Safety Modernization Act focuses on preventing food contamination, rather than solely planning the best response to it. Under FSMA, the food industry must implement proactive control systems at all critical points in food production, distribution, and service.
Although it would be a sigh of relief to believe that the most recent legislation has finally solved foodborne illness outbreaks and problems once and for all, the truth, of course, is that as agriculture practices and food production advance, there will always be a need for a new set of regulations to address unprecedented issues. As demonstrated by the highly publicized controversy regarding the salmonella contamination of romaine lettuce, the current state of food safety has plenty of room for improvement.
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