We all need food where ever we are. Food is processed in factories, people enjoy food in restaurants, while some relish the entire food experience by cooking at home. While cooking at home, we ensure our food is made with the freshest ingredients and in the most hygienic ways possible. But what about the food that comes packaged and the food served to us in restaurants? Do we think twice about food safety before consuming those products?
Food regulations have been set to ensure the food we eat and the food given to us are safe to consume. They have been implemented so that we don’t have to question the source and the cleanliness of our foods. But every citizen should be aware of food safety regulations and laws. What are food regulations? Why are food regulations important? We will provide insight into these and related questions. So let’s dive in.
1. Introduction to Food Safety Regulations
There are various steps to the food supply chain. These include supplying, producing, and distributing food and its products. Food regulation is a list of rules and laws to be followed while managing the food supply chain. These food regulations ensure food safety is being implemented throughout these steps.
Food regulation makes sure minimum standards of food safety are met while also being the best quality foods. Making sure the food safety system is up to the mark of federal laws is also the responsibility of food regulations.
1.1. Everyone Involved in the Food Supply Chain
A food safety program has been set up under food regulations that include food safety precautions, actions to ensure food safety, and correct ways to address food complaints. These rules are applicable to all members working in the food supply chain. Though there are a few food safety practices exclusive to particular sectors in the supply chain. These include rules for members to follow and risk management procedures in case of unlawful deeds risking public health.
1.2. International and Domestic Food Trading
Food safety regulations help in smooth trading between international and domestic food markets. They make sure no food safety issues arise that can risk the health of all people. Though rare, importing foreign food may open doors to the risk of foodborne illnesses. So to safeguard the consumers and economy of a country, food regulations have been set up.
Due to globalization, food safety regulation has become more complex. New food safety laws and regulations are being introduced. All of these weaves together into a complex web.
2. Why are Food Regulations Important
Food safety regulations play a major role in the food industry. They protect public health from foodborne illnesses and ensure food safety issues are addressed. Food regulations are followed by food manufacturers and processors, logisticians, suppliers as well as consumers. Food regulations help food businesses keep producing foods safely while trading in the global and national markets.
2.1. To Guarantee Food Safety
Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventative Controls (HARPC) is a system under food safety regulations in the United States. It lays out ground rules for food businesses to follow for safe food practices. It lists precautionary measures to take and risk management procedures. HARPC and HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) are both government organizations that prevent issues from arising in the food industry. Food processors are expected to follow the guidelines under these organizations to keep their businesses afloat.
2.2. To Establish Food Security
Food security means citizens of a country have abundant food throughout the year. This food should be clean and healthy for consumption. Food security is based on variables such as an increase in population, growing demand for food as a result, available supply of food, and more. Food regulations ensure the factors under food security are being taken into account. This is mainly with respect to the poverty-line population. Sometimes, a country may need to rely solely on importation to meet the nation’s food security demands.
2.3. To Stop Unlawful Practices
Food laws have been established as a part of food regulation. These laws protect consumer rights. They ensure the consumers are receiving their food products exactly as they have been advertised. Food adulteration, counterfeits, and misbranding are punishable offenses under federal law and the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. These laws state that wrong and misleading information about a product’s nutrition, ingredients, or weight is a federal crime. Intentionally tampering with food and adulteration is also prohibited to safeguard the health of consumers.
2.4. To Ensure Consumer Safety and National Well-Being
Most of the time, consumers are unaware of the procedures through which the products they buy go through. Food safety regulations ensure consumers can trust the goods they buy. Consumers shouldn’t get ill after eating these manufactured food products. If an issue may arise or there is a breach in food safety protocols, federal laws related to food regulations are implemented. Sanctions may be put into place and control measures may be taken to avoid the spread.
Though food safety regulations have been set up to prevent unfortunate instances from occurring, no law is foolproof. It is not possible to keep a track of the entire nation’s food safety accurately all at once. Hence, there is an individual responsibility that arises to make sure food regulations are honored by all.
3. Food Safety Laws and Regulations in the United States of America
Food laws have been constructed after a lot of discussions and analysis. Some laws came to be after certain events forced them to be created. For example, the establishment of the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point. While some laws were created as a preventative measure against foodborne illnesses and food terrorism. For example, the establishment of the Food Safety Modernization Act (2011).
The food industry is divided into five parts with each part having its own laws to abide by in the United States. These are:
- Agricultural production input
- Agricultural production
- Food processing and labeling
- Retail food establishments
Some of the important federal food regulations are given below.
3.1. Food Safety Modernization Act
The Food Safety Modernization Act is a fairly recent development. This law was created by the federal authorities to prevent food safety issues before they occurred rather than to try and solve the problems afterward. There are seven key aspects to the Food Safety Modernization Act. These are:
- To produce safely
- A foreign supplier verification program
- A sanitary transport rule
- To prevent intentional adulteration
- To verify accredited third-party verification
- A preventative control rule for human and animal food
- A voluntary qualified imported program
3.2. Sanitary Food Transportation Act
The Sanitary Food Transportation Act is for all food storage houses that store human and animal food. This law requires these places to meet the sanitary standards mentioned in the law and follow the food safety regulations set in the law. This law makes sure none of the food is unsanitary before use and prevents foodborne illnesses from happening to the citizens of the nation.
3.3. Federal Food, Cosmetic, and Drug Act
In 1938, a federal law was created to manage the safe and correct manufacturing and distribution of food products, drugs, medical equipment, and cosmetics. A food labeling policy was also set up for these products. This policy stated misbranding of cosmetics and dietary supplements and the production of unsafe food is illegal. Any of these unlawful actions can lead to court punishment.
3.4. Federal Trade Commission Act
It allows the Federal Trade Commission to question suspicious dealings in the food industry. This may include rigged competitions and fraudulent activities. The Federal Trade Commission has the authority to investigate such inaccuracies and bring the responsible parties in front of a court.
4. Agencies Responsible for the Creation of Food Safety Laws
There are many government agencies involved in the creation of food safety laws and maintaining a seamless food safety system. These government bodies work to curb food safety challenges. There are three federal agencies that create food safety programs by using food safety resources and reducing food safety risks. They have set up standardized food safety protocols. These federal agencies are:
4.1. Food Safety and Inspection Service
It is a branch under the US Department of Agriculture. It conducts risk assessments and modulates the country’s national food supply. This includes raw meat and poultry products such as eggs and milk and other food products.
FSIS holds on-site inspections of food products. One of these inspections includes investigating the proper storage of meat products. It is also responsible for the correct labeling of meat and poultry food products for commercial use.
4.2. Food and Drug Administration
The Food and Drug Administration is a mandatory food safety regulation. It holds authority over foods that are mainly processed. The FDA is responsible for ensuring all commercial food products follow uniform food safety regulations. It also makes sure these food items are properly labeled to not be misleading to public health.
The FDA follows federal food laws and regulations and insists upon the strict use of preventative measures. The FDA also tests food samples to check for microbial hazards and chemical contamination. The FDA conducts extensive investigations and research based on scientific knowledge. It is also responsible to ensure the safe trading of food products across borders.
4.3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
This has been set up to prevent the spread of foodborne illnesses arising from bad food production. This includes domestic as well as international food items. CDC works closely with the FSIS and FDA to prevent life-threatening diseases from spreading throughout the nation.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention perform regular food inspections, surveillance, diagnostic procedures, and risk evaluations to ensure the smooth flowing of public health.
Other than these federal agencies, the Environmental Protection Agency, US Customs and Border Protection, and the NOAA Seafood Inspection Program are some of the other federal food regulation bodies. Some of these agencies have dual jurisdiction. This means that the food products are overseen by two different agencies.
5. Consequences of Food Safety Regulations Not Being Followed
Food Safety Laws are to be compulsorily followed by every member of the food supply chain including consumers. Not following these laws and regulations will lead to consequences mentioned by federal agencies in the food industry.
These consequences may vary depending on the weight of the offenses. The food businesses may be sent written warnings or be completely shut down because of it. Extreme sanctions may be given to those who have blatantly ignored and refused to follow the food safety regulations and in turn, created food safety issues.
Below mentioned are a few of the punishments given because of non-compliance with food safety regulations:
- Non-compliance fines and litigation
- Interim closure of the food business
- Product recalls
- Suspension of food business license
- Written food safety warnings and requests for corrective amends
- Criminal prosecution and imprisonment
Although these are not federal consequences, a food business that has broken food safety laws and regulations may face public boycotts due to negative publicity. The food business may stop attracting customers due to a lack of customer confidence. When food safety regulations are been breached, public health is taken into consideration. Most times, the food businesses that have created the offense and temporarily suspended or completely shut down.
6. Food Safety and Its Importance
Foodborne illnesses are a leading cause of people falling sick and even death in extreme cases. Most cases of stomach illnesses are never diagnosed or treated in a proper manner because their symptoms appear to be similar to that of the common flu. Germs and bacteria are lingering everywhere. They can attack our kitchens at home, kitchens in restaurants, in food manufacturing, and processing areas, and even in grocery stores.
Necessary precautions can be taken to prevent foodborne illnesses from spreading and making people fall sick. Every citizen should be trained in food safety to know how to obey safe food practices. Food safety is a fundamental issue to be addressed while handling food whether it’s by a consumer or any other member of the food supply chain.
If citizens are aware of where their food is coming from, and how it is being processed and they know how to choose the best quality ones while grocery shopping, then foodborne illnesses can be stopped at individual levels.
Our world has been taken over by food produced primarily in industries. Even raw vegetables and pulses are processed in factories before they reach the supermarket stores. Food items are processed and packaged in large numbers in a factory. The machines are constantly running, producing huge amounts of products.
Many issues could arise and not be given the proper attention while being treated in a factory. Concerns that often come up due to this are bug-infested food, undesirable ingredients, rancid food, and dangerous objects such as glass and metal making their way into packaged items. It is close to impossible to ensure a hundred percent safety when it comes to food.
Foodborne illnesses have reduced from being a deadly threat in a few decades. But some people are more sensitive and susceptible to such diseases. This includes elderly people, pregnant people, young children, and people with extra health issues.
6.1. Food Safety Issues
Below are a few common ways food safety issues may arise:
6.1.1. Physical Contamination
Physical contamination involves the accidental addition of inedible substances in food such as pieces of metal, glass, hair, pests, and more. These substances can be harmful when ingested. They may cause choking or discomfort and may even lead to microbial infections.
6.1.2. Chemical Tampering
Chemical contamination refers to the addition of dangerous chemicals to food such as pesticides, fertilizers, and cleaning aids, as well as naturally occurring dangerous toxins like poisonous mushrooms. Diseases may arise if these chemicals are not washed off properly from raw fruits and vegetables before consumption. Ingestion of such chemicals can be lethal to health.
6.1.3. Foodborne Diseases
Foodborne illnesses are mainly caused by the presence of pathogens in food items. Pathogens include dangerous viruses, bacteria, fungi, parasites, etc. There are mainly two ways they contaminate food. Firstly, through natural occurrence and secondly through microbial contamination. The intensity of the pathogen presence can be determined by the storage and preparation of food.
6.1.4. Food Adulteration
Food adulteration involves the intentional addition of harmful substances to food with the intent of increasing profits. Some examples include the addition of white paint to milk, chalk powder in sugar, small white stones in rice, and more. Sometimes the ingredients used to make a food item may be completely edible but of a cheaper quality. This type of food adulteration is fraudulent behavior.
Some people are allergic to certain foods. Ingestion or even contact with these foods may be lethal to them. It may cause gastrointestinal problems, hives, or even anaphylaxis. For some, even having food that has been in contact with allergens can prove to be dangerous.
6.1.6. Food Treatment
Sometimes food may tamper with the full intention of causing harm. This may be an addition of any substance. This was mainly observed as a warfare tactic. It caused huge-scale harm and epidemic.
7. Foodborne Illnesses
Foodborne illnesses are caused by pathogens such as viruses, bacteria, parasites, toxins, and harmful chemicals. Foodborne illnesses mostly affect children, the elderly, pregnant people, and those with weak immune systems. Common symptoms of foodborne illnesses are diarrhea, stomach cramps or discomfort, nausea, and vomiting, Sometimes these illnesses may even lead to death.
There are many sources of foodborne illnesses. These are; drinking contaminated water, improper storage of food, eating undercooked or overcooked foods like seafood, meat, and poultry, unpasteurized dairy products, improperly canned food items, improperly refrigerated meat, and its products, and directly eating raw and fresh food produce.
Food handlers who are suffering from a virus or bacteria may spread it to the food items and in turn, put public health in danger. Improper sanitation and production methods during food processing are the leading cause of foodborne illnesses.
8. Prevention of Food Safety Hazards and Food Safety Training
A number of laws and regulations have been implemented by the US authorities to prevent food safety hazards. These policies vary from the state level to the national level. They also vary depending on the type of food business and the role of the member of the food supply chain.
Here are a few ways in which the United States of America regulates food safety:
- Pasteurization of milk to be safe from foodborne illnesses.
- Meat processing to prevent and minimize microbial contamination of slaughter foods.
- Consistent check-ins on the time and temperature of food stored in warehouses.
- Surprise visits to factories to ensure the hygienic and smooth running of food production.
- Monitoring of food handler hygiene to prevent food-hosted outbreaks.
- Anti-tampering technology to make sure illegal food tampering practices are not exercised for personal benefit.
America is a huge country with food being processed at all locations and on a massive scale. While government authorities always do their best in preventing serious food-based illnesses from taking hold over the citizens of the country, it is not possible to stop all such diseases from spreading.
That is why every individual needs to take charge and protect themselves as well as their family and friends from unsafe foods. So, why are food regulations important- Food safety regulations have been set up to protect public health and it is the responsibility of every individual to be well-versed in them.