Why Are Food Regulations Important?

In the U.S., most of us have spent our lives with an unprecedented level of food safety.

It's something we take for granted, but it doesn't happen by accident. The enforcement of a complicated web of food regulations are the reason the food we eat is safe.

Let's take a closer look at why food safety is important and why food regulations keep us safe.

Why is Food Safety Important?

Food safety has always been a basic survival concern. But when people knew exactly where their food came from, exactly what was in it, and could inspect its quality before purchase, individuals or communities could handle matters on their own.

In a world of industrial food production, processing, and packaging, individuals and communities don't have a hope of ensuring their food is safe. Machines and assembly lines produce food on a massive scale, where many things can go wrong and then go unnoticed. Food safety is important for preventing food that is bug-infested, rancid, full of dangerous ingredients, or hiding the occasional piece of metal or glass from making it to market.

Even now that those kinds of incidents are rare, foodborne illness is still a huge threat to public safety. It's unpleasant for everyone, but it can be deadly for people with compromised immune systems – young children, the elderly, pregnant people, and those with other health conditions.

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Food Safety Issues

Many different problems fall under the umbrella of food (and beverage) safety, including:

  • Foodborne Infection. The contraction of a disease or illness as a result of food (or drink) contaminated with a pathogen (like harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites, fungi, and more). Pathogens may be naturally occurring or introduced by microbial contamination, but the storage and preparation of food also determines whether the pathogens will grow to a dangerous level.
  • Physical Contamination. The introduction of foreign objects in food, like glass, bone, pests, or hair. Physical contaminants can cause choking, cutting, broken teeth, and can introduce microbial contamination.
  • Chemical Contamination. The introduction or presence of toxic chemicals in food, like fertilizer, pesticides, cleaning products, or even naturally occurring chemicals that can make you sick (like the toxin in pufferfish sushi).
  • Food Adulteration. The addition or substitution of ingredients that reduce the quality of food, often to increase profit. Some adulteration introduces a food safety issue, like chalk powder in sugar or sawdust in bread, while some is more a case of fraud – the ingredients might be safe but not what you've paid for.
  • Food Tampering. The deliberate physical, chemical, or biological contamination of food with the intent to cause harm. This can be anything from large-scale sabotage to a server spitting in food.
  • Allergen Presence or Contamination. For people with food allergies, the presence of certain substances can cause anything from hives to gastrointestinal distress to deadly anaphylaxis. Even having food prepared in the same space as an allergen is enough to cause a dangerous reaction.

Each of these threats can be introduced at any point in the supply chain, from farm to table. That includes production, supply, processing, storage, transportation, and preparation.

Your food passes through hundreds or thousands of hands – and multiple business entities – before it lands on your plate. How do we manage to control it?

Public Health and Food Safety Regulations

Since our food supply chain is long and complicated, so are the laws and regulations. It can all seem like too complicated, sometimes, but each aspect of food regulation keeps us safe from a particular threat at a particular stage. Big businesses and small businesses have different food safety challenges, so we need regulations and enforcement agencies that address both.

Some pieces are handled by large federal agencies, some by state-level departments, and some by county or municipality health departments. Different jurisdictions have different rules, but generally speaking, the U.S. regulates:

  • Livestock Practices, Feed & Food-Animal Drugs to prevent chemical and biological contamination while animals are alive
  • Slaughter & Meat Processing to minimize microbial contamination of high-risk foods
  • Pasteurization to prevent foodborne illness
  • Use of Pesticides & Other Chemicals to ensure that chemicals used for production, processing, and storage aren't hazardous to the consumer
  • Drug, Pesticide & Chemical Residue to prevent dangerous levels of chemical contamination from being present at consumption
  • "Food Defect" Levels to minimize the risk associated with "natural and unavoidable" contaminants in food (mostly biological contaminants like insect parts and pest droppings) while keeping food prices reasonable
  • Time and Temperature of Foods to prevent dangerous pathogen growth in certain foods during production, processing, storage, transportation, and preparation
  • Sanitation and Food Handling to minimize microbial and chemical contamination during production, processing and preparation
  • Food Handler Hygiene to minimize microbial and physical contamination during production, processing, and preparation
  • Anti-Tampering Technology to prevent food tampering in transit, storage, and retail
  • Imported Foods to ensure that products created in other countries meet U.S. safety standards
  • Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) Programs for the proactive identification, evaluation, and management of potential food safety hazards of all kinds
  • Food Tracing, Outbreak Tracking & Food Recalls to minimize the harm caused by problems that escape the preventative measures

Other regulations impact food safety more indirectly, like regulations for air and water pollution, advertising, marketing, and food labeling.

Why are Food Regulations Important?

The history of food safety regulation can be traced by the elimination of one deadly threat at a time. Every rule is the result of a problem that used to kill or cause serious harm.

Food regulations serve as checks and balances on the food industry to prevent malpractices like adulteration and mismeasuring as well as the consequences of cutting corners. Specific regulations are needed at every step of production to make the process foolproof.

Importance Of Food Safety in Restaurants

Food service is one of the more loosely regulated parts of the food chain – it's largely up to individual counties or cities to regulate and enforce, assisted by recommendations from federal agencies. As a result, the rules are patchy and so is enforcement. Plus, the nature of the industry presents a lot of logistical challenges to good food safety practice.

Maybe that's why 70% of "stomach flu" (norovirus) outbreaks are traced back to food service employees.

Thorough food safety training is one of the most overlooked food safety measures a restaurant can take.

Many jurisdictions require at least one certified Food Safety Manager per establishment, but the FDA has found that it's better to have multiple managers with this training in strategic positions. According to them, food safety increases when compliance is actively monitored by a well-trained manager.

There's also an argument for formal food handler training.

Each state has slightly different rules and regulations regarding food handler and food safety manager training. To help you understand yours, we've put together a state-by-state guide for each.

Improve Food Safety with Online Training

Online food safety compliance training can be a great solution for restaurants – it's inexpensive, efficient, and with a reputable provider like us, it's always up-to-date and accurate.

We offer a full catalog of food and beverage compliance courses. We offer state-approved options for many jurisdictions with mandatory training, and in places where jurisdiction is optional, you can rest easy knowing our food safety training is ANSI-accredited.

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