11.4: Protecting the Public Health
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- Learn about the efforts by the government and food industry to protect public health
Most foodborne infections go unreported and undiagnosed. However, the CDC estimates that about seventy-six million people in the United States become ill from foodborne pathogens or other agents every year. In North America, a number of government agencies work to educate the public about food infections and intoxications, prevent the spread of disease, and quell any major problems or outbreaks. They include the CDC, the FDA, and the USDA, among other organizations.
Efforts on the Governmental Level
A number of government agencies work to ensure food safety and to protect the public from foodborne illness. Food regulatory agencies work to protect the consumer and ensure the safety of our food. Food and drug regulation in the United States began in the late nineteenth century when state and local governments began to enact regulatory policies. In 1906, Congress passed the Pure Food and Drugs Act, which led to the creation of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Today, a number of agencies are in charge of monitoring how food is produced, processed, and packaged.
The USDA and the FDA enforce laws regarding the safety of domestic and imported food. In addition, the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938 gives the FDA authority over food ingredients. The FDA enforces the safety of domestic and imported foods. It also monitors supplements, food labels, claims that corporations make about the benefits of products, and pharmaceutical drugs. Sometimes, the FDA must recall contaminated foods and remove them from the market to protect public health. For example, in 2011 contaminated peanut butter led to the recall of thousands of jars of a few popular brands. Recalls are almost always voluntary and often are requested by companies after a problem has been discovered. In rare cases, the FDA will request a recall. But no matter what triggers the removal of a product, the FDA’s role is to oversee the strategy and assess the adequacy and effectiveness of the recall.
Many consumers have concerns about safety practices during the production and distribution of food. This is especially critical given recent outbreaks of foodborne illnesses. For example, during fall 2011 in the United States, there was an eruption of the bacteria Listeria monocytogenes in cantaloupe. It was one of the deadliest outbreaks in over a decade and resulted in a number of deaths and hospitalizations. In January 2011, the Food Safety Modernization Act was passed to grant more authority to the FDA to improve food safety. The FDA and other agencies also address consumer-related concerns about protecting the nation’s food supply in the event of a terrorist attack.
The USDA headed by the Secretary of Agriculture, develops and executes federal policy on farming and food. This agency supports farmers and ranchers, protects natural resources, promotes trade, and seeks to end hunger in the United States and abroad. The USDA also assures food safety, and in particular oversees the regulation of meat, poultry, and processed egg products. The CDC tracks outbreaks, identifies the causes of food infection and intoxication, and recommends ways to prevent foodborne illness. Other government agencies that play a role in protecting the public include the Food Safety and Inspection Service, a division of the USDA, which enforces laws regulating meat and poultry safety. The Agricultural Research Service, which is the research arm of the USDA, investigates a number of agricultural practices, including those related to animal and crop safety. The National Institute of Food and Agriculture conducts research and education programs on food safety for farmers and consumers.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) works to protect human health and the environment. Founded in 1970, the agency conducts environmental assessment, education, research, and regulation. The EPA also works to prevent pollution and protect natural resources. Two of its many regulatory practices in the area of agriculture include overseeing water quality and the use of pesticides.The EPA approves pesticides and other chemicals used in agriculture, and sets limits on how much residue can remain on food. The FDA analyzes food for surface residue and waxes. Processing methods can either reduce or concentrate pesticide residue in foods. Therefore, the Food Quality Protection Act, which was passed in 1996, requires manufacturers to show that pesticide levels are safe for children.
Efforts within the Food Industry
The Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) is a program within the food industry designed to promote food safety and prevent contamination by identifying all areas in food production and retail where contamination could occur. Companies and retailers determine the points during processing, packaging, shipping, or shelving where potential contamination may occur.. Those companies or retailers must then establish critical control points to prevent, control, or eliminate the potential for food contamination. The USDA requires the food industry to follow HACCP for meat and poultry, while the FDA requires it for seafood, low-acid canned-food, and juice. HACCP is voluntary for all other food products but its main goal is to prevent contamination at all costs.
The Seven Steps to HACCP:
- Conduct a hazard analysis: The manufacturer must first determine any food safety hazards (ex. biological, chemicals, or physical) and identify preventative measures to control the hazards.
- Identify the critical control points: Critical control point (CCP) is a point or procedure in food manufacturing where control can be applied to prevent or eliminate food hazards that may cause the food to be unsafe.
- Establish critical limits: A critical limit is the maximum or minimum value that a food hazard must be controlled at a CCP to prevent, eliminate or reduce it to an acceptable level.
- Establish monitoring requirements: The manufacture must establish procedures to monitor the control points to ensure the process is under control and not above the CCP.
- Establish corrective actions: Corrective actions are needed when monitoring indicates a deviation from the established critical limit to ensure that no produce injurious to health has occurred as a result of the deviation.
- Establish verification procedures: Verification ensures that the HACCP plan is adequate with CCP records, critical limits and microbial sampling and analysis.
- Record keeping procedure: The manufacturer must maintain certain documents including its hazard analysis, HACCP plan, and records monitoring the CCP, critical limits, and the verification of handling processed deviations.
For more information on the HACCP visit https://www.fsis.usda.gov/Oa/background/keyhaccp.htm.
- History of Food and Drug Regulation in the United States. EH.Net Encyclopedia. http://eh.net/?s=History+of+Food+and+Drug+Regulation+in+the+United+States. Published February 4, 2010. Accessed January 28, 2018.
- FDA 101: Product Recalls—From First Alert to Effectiveness Checks. US Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/Cons.../ucm049070.htm. Updated September 9, 2011. Accessed January 18, 2018.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Multistate Outbreak of Listeriosis Associated with Jensen Farms Cantaloupe—United States.” August–September, 2011. http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwr...9a5.htm?s_cid= mm6039a5_w.
Contributors and Attributions
University of Hawai’i at Mānoa Food Science and Human Nutrition Program: Allison Calabrese, Cheryl Gibby, Billy Meinke, Marie Kainoa Fialkowski Revilla, and Alan Titchenal