Food Safety as a Public Good

Mary Gormandy White

Both government regulators and food manufacturers play important roles in ensuring standards for food safety as a public good.

Food Safety as a Public Good in the United States

In the United States, there are many laws designed to guarantee the food supply is safe. The rules and regulations governing food manufacturing and marketing are scientifically based and exist for the purpose of consumer protection. Food manufacturers are held accountable for producing products that are safe for consumption, and the government is responsible for enforcement of applicable laws.

Federal, state and local agencies work jointly to monitor and regulate food safety. Government regulations are in place to ensure a safe food supply at many different levels, from making sure that local food service workers are properly trained to enacting and enforcing broad, encompassing legislation about permitted and disallowed food additives.

Principles Guiding the U.S. Food Safety System

  • Marketed foods must be safe and wholesome.
  • Regulatory decisions must be grounded in science.
  • Enforcement of food safety regulations is a governmental responsibility.
  • Food industry businesses are expected to comply with regulations
  • Businesses that do not comply are held liable.
  • The food safety regulatory process is visible to the public.

Major Federal Food Safety Laws

Federal Government Role in Food Safety

In the United States, several agencies are charged with regulating food safety as a public good, including:

  • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): Protects consumers and the environment from pesticide-related risks.
  • Food and Drug Administration (FDA): Regulates purity, safety, and labeling of foods that do not fall under the scope of the USDA.
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA):
    • Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS): Charged with regulating safety and accurate labeling of meat, poultry, and eggs.
    • Animal and Plan Health Inspection Services (APHIS): Provides consumer protection against plant and animal diseases.

State Government Role in Food Safety

Each state has a health agency, which plays an important role in upholding standards of food safety as a public good. States operate local health departments, which play an important role in monitoring food safety concerns at the city and county levels.

Citizen's Role in Food Safety

Consumers also play an important role in the process of maintaining food safety. Many regulatory violations and safety concerns are brought to light as a result of consumer complaints. For example, consumers who contract food borne illnesses can play a major role in preventing the spread of disease by reporting their situation to proper health authorities. Information on how to report specific types of food related complaints can be found at the USDA website.

Food Industry Self Regulation

Food producers, manufacturers, distributors and retailers often choose to participate in industry-based self-regulatory trade organizations. Such organizations often set industry codes of practice and lobby on behalf of member organizations. Examples of food industry associations include:

There are also many state-based associations for food industry professionals and companies.

Food Safety Around the World

Each country has its own systems in place for protecting citizens and visitors from unsafe foods.

Consumer Protection Affects Everyone

Food safety affects everyone. No one regulatory body or law enforcement agency bears sole responsibility for keeping consumers safe from everything that can possibly impact the safety of the food supply. It takes the combined efforts of federal, state and local governments, along with responsible food industry practices and the efforts of concerned citizens working together to ensure that the highest standards of food safety are upheld at all times. If you wonder what the world would be like without stringent food safety standards, read the Upon Sinclair classic The Jungle for a reminder of life before the government got involved in regulating food safety in the United States.

Food Safety as a Public Good