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?
One in six Americans fall ill and 3,000 die each year due to food-borne illnesses. There were roughly 1,000 food recalls in 2019. Many cases of food-borne illnesses go unreported, often because the symptoms resemble the flu. Germs can contaminate food in home kitchens, restaurants, grocery stores, and food manufacturing and processing plants. Foodborne illnesses are preventable.
Training is the best way to ensure food handlers know and follow safe food practices. 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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What is a Foodborne Illness?
More than 250 food-borne diseases have been identified and most are infections caused by parasites, viruses, bacteria, harmful toxins, and chemicals. The CDC has found that 90% of all illnesses are caused by Salmonella, norovirus, Campylobacter, Toxoplasma, E. coli O157:H7, Listeria and Clostridium perfringens.
Symptoms include nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach cramps and some illnesses can be life-threatening. Children, older people, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems are more likely to develop a foodborne illness. It’s called an outbreak if more than one person is sickened. Sources of illness causing organisms include:
- Improper storage
- Contaminated water
- Improperly canned foods
- Undercooked meats, poultry, and seafood
- Fresh produce
- Unpasteurized dairy products
- Improperly refrigerated meats
Sick or unhygienic food handlers Food recalls are often due to pathogens, improper labeling, inspection issues, debris, and undeclared allergens. The related outbreaks are the result of poor sanitation and production methods at slaughterhouses, farms, and factories.
What is a Food Handler Certificate?
As you can see, there are a lot of ways food can get contaminated and cause serious illnesses. Due to the danger to the public of unsafe food handling practices, many states require food handlers to have a Food Handler Card. This usually involves the completion of a food handling course.
Who is Responsible for Training Food Workers on Safe Food Handling Procedures?
Most state laws require that workers who handle, prepare, store, and serve food to the public complete accredited food safety training, pass an exam, and earn food handler certification.
A food employee works with unpacked food, food equipment or utensils, or food-contact surfaces. Some states require that at least one employee is certified as a Food Safety Manager. The requirements vary by state.
It’s Your Job to Protect Public Health
When customers decide to eat at your restaurant, they are trusting that strangers will properly handle and prepare food and not make them sick. It is part of a food employee’s job to take all necessary steps to avoid contaminating food and sickening guests. Mandatory food safety rules are set by your city, county, district, or state.
Managers and employees of food establishments are likely required to ensure:
- Food and ingredients come from a safe source.
- Food is held at the correct holding temperatures.
- Food is cooked properly, especially meat, poultry, and pork.
- Food is handled to prevent cross-contamination from common work areas and utensils.
- Food handlers know how to prevent contamination.
- Food handlers wash their hands and don’t work when they’re sick.
It Could Save Your Life
This isn’t just about safe practices at work. You can use these food handling skills you learn at home, preventing illness among your family and friends. Things like thoroughly washing your hands and produce, storing food at the correct temperature, cooking food to the safe temp, and avoiding cross contamination can literally save your life.
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
Foodservice 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 practices.
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.
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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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