Revised November 2017.
Food safety is a worldwide issue affecting hundreds of millions of people who suffer from diseases caused by contaminated food. The World Health Organization (WHO) calls it "one of the most widespread health problems and an important cause of reduced economic productivity." According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention, about one in six Americans, or 48 million people, gets sick each year from a foodborne illiness. The CDC estimates another 128,000 Americans are hospitalized and 3,000 people die from a foodborne illness each year.
Safety measures and risk indicators are regulated by many different government agencies: the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS), which regulates meat and poultry; the United States Department of Commerce, which regulates voluntary waterfoods inspection; and the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates all other categories of foodstuffs.
Food safety is a continued concern for many Americans. There are several things that consumers can do to ensure their food is safe. Basic practices such as washing hands before and after handling food, having a clean work space and making sure food is stored at the correct temperature will help prevent illness and keep food safe. Several government programs have been implemented over the past couple of years to help ensure that the products consumers buy from the grocery store are clean and properly handled. For example, the Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) program, implemented in March 2009, requires labeling on all meat, vegetables and some nuts as to their origin. Requiring product origin labels not only informs customers about where their food is coming from but also provides traceability. In the event of a recall, having products labeled will make the recall process easier and facilitate quicker notification of consumers.
The processing of meat or fresh produce are prime opportunities for contamination if proper handling techniques are not used. The best way to prevent contamination is to make sure that the work area is clean and limit the contact the food may have with other substances, such as water. Proper canning and freezing techniques should be followed to confirm that the products will fulfill the expected shelf life.
One emerging issue in the livestock industry is the growing demand for locally raised meat, yet there are not enough USDA-inspected processing facilities in close proximity. Only USDA-inspected facilities are able to sell small-scale cuts, such as steaks. A recent solution to the problem is the idea of mobile processing units; these are large refrigerated trailers that are fully equipped to slaughter large animals.
Photo courtesy of USDA FSIS.
Food Safety Resources
- American Association of Meat Processors (AAMP) - Representing more than 1,300 small- and medium-sized meat, poultry and food businesses.
- Ask the Experts, FoodSafety.gov - Consumers who can't find the answer to a food safety question can ask the experts by going to this webpage and then e-mailing, calling or chatting online with them.
- Beef Safety Fact Sheets - The Beef Checkoff, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) - A resource for professionals, this file contains consumer safety tips, answers to commonly asked questions and descriptions of some common foodborne pathogens and their sources.
- Consumer Health & Safety - Health, safety, and recall information for children, families, patients, and seniors, as well as consumer related news stories.
- Dairy Beef Online Course, University of California, Davis - Tools for assessing and certifying on-farm quality assurance programs are provided. Registration and completion of four quizzes and course evaluation is required to receive a certificate of completion. The course is also packaged as a trainer's and participant's CD-ROM for individuals requesting in-residence training or without access to the Internet.
- Developing a Food Safety Plan for Your Fresh Produce Operation, Oklahoma State University.
- Estimates of Foodborne Illiness in the United States, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- FDA Food Safety Modernization Act - This food safety legislation was signed into law in January 2011.
- Federal Food Safety System: A Primer, Congressional Research Service (CRS), 2011 - This primer provides an overview of the major federal agencies involved in monitoring the safety of the U.S. food supply.
- Federal Inspection Programs, Food Safety and Inspection Services (FSIS), USDA.
- Foodborne Illness Cost Calculator, Economic Research Service (ERS), USDA - This calculator provides information on the assumptions behind foodborne illness cost estimates.
- Food Labeling Procedures, FSIS, USDA - This site includes procedures, policies, a listing of ingredients, packaging materials and other related links.
- Food Safety, ERS, USDA - This portal offers several documents and links related to food safety issues.
- Food Safety, International Food Information Council Foundation.
- Food Safety, Medline Plus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Food Safety, National Ag Compliance Assistance Center, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
- Food Safety, National Agricultural Law Center, University of Arkansas, 2009.
- Food Safety and Security, Food Marketing Institute - FMI represents retail supermarkets and grocery wholesalers.
- FoodSafety.gov - This federal site, a combined effort of the CDC, U.S. FDA and USDA, offers consumers tips about proper methods of cleaning, handling, preparing and storing food, as well as information about product recalls.
- The Food Safety Consortium, University of Arkansas - This consortium was established to conduct extensive research into all areas of poultry, beef and pork meat production from the farm to consumer’s table. This site maintains food safety links to government agencies, academic institutions and industrial organizations.
- Food Safety Fact Sheets, FSIS, USDA - Information is available on basic food safety topics and on the safe preparation of meat, poultry, eggs and other products.
- Food Safety Information Center, National Agricultural Library, USDA - This government portal provides links to educational and training, discussion groups and HACCP information.
- Food Safety Inspection Service, USDA - This public health agency is responsible for ensuring that meat, poultry and egg products are safe, wholesome and accurately labeled.
- The Food Safety Modernization Act and the Produce Rule
- Food Safety Research Information Office, Food and Nutrition Information Center, National Ag Library, USDA.
- Fresh Produce Production Food Safety Plan Logs and Worksheets, Oklahoma State University.
- Good Agricultural Practices Network for Education and Training (GAPsNET), Cornell University.
- Institute for Food Safety and Health - This applied food research institute based in Chicago provides stakeholders the opportunity to develop and exchange knowledge, experience and expertise to address key issues in food safety.
- Joint Institute for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (JIFSAN), University of Maryland - The institute, established by the U.S. FDA, the University of Maryland and later the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, is a multidisciplinary research and education program.
- Key Points of Control and Management for Microbial Food Safety: Information for Growers, Packers, and Handlers of Horticultural Products, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of California - Presents principles for prevention of contaminated fruits and vegetables in crop production, postharvest packing, transportation, fresh-cut and value-added processing and storage.
- Meat, Poultry and Egg Product Inspection Directory, FSIS, USDA - This directory lists establishments that produce meat, poultry, and/or egg products regulated by USDA's FSIS in accordance with the Federal Meat Inspection Act, the Poultry Products Inspection Act and the Egg Products Inspection Act. One version of the directory is arranged alphabetically by establishment name and the other is arranged numerically by establishment number. Viewers can subscribe to automatic notifications of directory updates.
- On-Farm Food Safety Project - This comprehensive program offers technical assistance and resources for creating an on-farm plan.
- Produce Safety Action Plan - FDA, USDA